Cangel Best Lovers
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Age : 28
Localisation : Belgique
Date d'inscription : 02/12/2006
|Sujet: Analyse de la saison 3 Sam 24 Avr 2010, 14:41|| |
Un essai qui analyse la saison 3. Je l'ai trouvé ICI.
- Citation :
September 2001 - May 2002
OVERVIEW OF THE SEASON
The driving force behind Angel as a character and ANGEL as a series is a search for redemption. The term literally means “to pay back” and it is usually associated with an individual being delivered from past sins by making reparation for those sins, either to the person offended or to the world in general. And, after a brief flirtation with the exploration of the problems of young adulthood, redemption in this sense was very much the emphasis in season 1. In the episode “In the Dark”, Angel was given the chance to live like a human but rejected it. He did so because that chance was not what he really wanted. What he wanted was forgiveness, redemption if you like. And that was not to be obtained easily or quickly by some magic trickery. Rather it had to be earned – the hard way. And in “Somnambulist” we see how he did so – by confronting his own past (in the form of his vampire offspring) and dealing with it. His willingness to do so made him different from the creature that he was before, even though that creature still exerted an influence on him, as demonstrated by the fact that he enjoyed the sensation of killing. A shorthand description of the late season 1 episodes such as "the Prodigal", "Eternity", "Five by Five", "Sanctuary" and Blind Date" would be that they were about what is right and what is wrong; about how we all have the power to choose our own paths but how any choice we make will have consequences for ourselves and others. They are about taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions, no matter how hard that is; but above all they are about how it is never too late to change. The ability of a human soul to choose good over evil means that everyone has the right to seek their own redemption, regardless of what they have done in the past.
And the exploration of redemption in this sense culminated in “To Shanshu in LA” which was based on the proposition that Angel, by virtue of his vampiric nature, was cut off from humanity. As a vampire, could not change and he could not grow because he was not part of life. He needed nothing for himself. He hoped for nothing for himself. But it introduced to us the idea that, by fighting the good fight, Angel would somehow become human and as a result would connect to the rest of the world. His past as a vampire called Angelus meant that he owed the world. His successful struggle against evil would be the sign that he had paid back what he owed and thereby he would gain his salvation. That was fine as far as it went. But there was nothing here to suggest whether and how the process of fighting for a future for others might change Angel himself even while he remained a vampire. No, when the writers suggested he would become human as a result of his efforts to help others they were emphasizing a cause and an effect. For Angel, his redemption had become not about changing himself but about doing things – going after his big win. If he was a good vampire and did everything he was supposed to then as a reward he would get his redemption. He would become human and then he could become part of the world.
But season 2 turned that on its head. In “Epiphany”, in the depths of despair, he did something so irresponsible and so appalling that, in the cold light of day, there was no escaping from its implications. He had risked losing his soul again. That was when he realized that humanity did mean something to him over and above being a means for his own salvation; that he could not take responsibility for releasing Angelus onto the world a third time. Moreover he also realized that his friends meant something to him and that he couldn’t let them die. Clearly both realizations were connected. In coming to them Angel was accepting that his connection to other people was important to him. More than that ,it was that connection with humanity that was his redemption. It was the feeling of belonging. It was not being intent only on living for what you could get for yourself, with all the pain and misery for others that meant. And here again I turn to Doyle’s words in “City of…”. have quoted them before. I make no apologies for doing so now because they are so prescient:
“It’s about letting them into your heart. It’s not about saving lives; it’s about saving souls. Hey, possibly your own in the process."
This is why letting other people into his heart is the way Angel saves his soul, a soul that is burdened and damaged not so much by the evil a vampire named Angelus caused many years ago but by the century or more of retreat from humanity that was the legacy of those crimes. And here we come to a different definition of “redemption”. Redemption in this sense means to identify what is scarred, broken and in need of healing in your life. It means to try to change your life to become a new creation and to begin to live a different life. And that is the story of season 3. This is the season which picks up from Angel’s decision that he has to connect with humanity. This is the season that shows us how he can do this – principally by maintaining and deepening his friendships, by flirting with the idea of a romantic relationship and above all by becoming a father. It is also the season which ultimately shows us how his efforts on this behalf all went horribly wrong.
Cutting the Cord
Of course, before all of that there is some unfinished business to dispose of – Buffy. As I said in my review of “Hearthrob” it would be almost impossible to overestimate the influence that Buffy has had on Angel. When he pulled himself out of the gutter in New York in 1996 it was for her. When in the course of season 2 of BUFFY he started, no matter how hesitatingly, to contribute to the fight against evil it was to help her. It was Buffy in “Amends” who helped him eventually see he had a contribution to make to that fight on his own account. And when he left Sunnydale it was for her sake. Finally it was when he ordered her so peremptorily out of LA in “Sanctuary” that we saw the conclusive proof that he had indeed found a mission of his own. In five years there was hardly a significant event in his life that did not in some way revolve around her. In “No Place Like Glrb Pltz” we saw Willow arrive in LA to announce to Angel that she had been killed. Of course death was always going to turn out to be a temporary state for her. Nevertheless ANGEL and BtVS were now very different shows and there was virtually no connection left between them. So, even though it was obvious that news of Buffy being alive after all would filter back to Angel before very long, it was still necessary to show him moving on with his life. And “Heartthrob” did so in a very interesting way. It contrasted Angel with a former pupil of his – James - who had lost the great love of his life. It showed how obsessional, self-indulgent and self-destructive James’ “love” was. He was unable to move on whereas, by contrast, Angel was. This is not to deny Angel’s love. The loss of Buffy hurt. What hurt even more was the fact that he felt that he could move on. But the fact that he could do so now shows how the lessons of “Reunion” and “Redefinition” have been learned and the good intentions of “Epiphany” put into practice. He was as obsessional, as self-indulgent and as self-destructive over Darla as James had been over his lost love. But his reaction to Buffy’s death was notable for the lack of all three characteristics. He dealt with his grief in a responsible and rational way. Indeed Buffy’s death was, in many ways, the ultimate test of the new Angel and the fact that he survived that test is the clearest possible proof of how far he has come.
But it is really only after “Hearthrob” that the real thematic development of the season can be seen. And just like season 2 it is possible to detect the highly structured way in which the writers set about linking together the main developments into a satisfyingly unified whole:
- Episode 1 (“Hearthrob”): As we have seen this was the bridge between seasons 2 and 3, a bridge which showed that Angel had left behind him the obsession with his own narrow world that characterized his past and was ready to embrace his future in the form of a wider world.
- Episodes 2, 6, 11, 13 and 14 (“That Vision Thing”, “Billy” “Birthday”, “Waiting in the Wings” and “Couplet”): These episodes explored the deepening relationship between Angel and Cordelia.
- Episodes 3 to 5 and 18 (“That Old Gang of Mine” to “Fredless” and “Double or Nothing”): Here we see the extent to which Angel Investigations had been reforged and the way in which they operated so closely and so well together.
- Episodes 7 to 10 and 12 (“Offspring” to “Dad” and Provider): Here we see what becoming a father for the first time meant for Angel.
- Episodes 15 to 17 (“Loyalty” to “Forgiving”): These episodes featured Wesley’s betrayal and the shattering of old loyalties.
- Episodes 19 to 22 (“The Price” to “Tomorrow”): In these episodes we saw the development of all Angel’s hopes for a normal life with Cordelia and his son and the final shattering of those hopes.
Angel and His Friends
As we have already seen, the writers demonstrated Angel’s lack of connection to humanity in season 2 principally by showing how he treated Wesley, Gunn and Cordelia. His obsession with Darla meant that he ignored the advice they offered and the help they tried to give (no matter how ineffectually) and that he ultimately abandoned them almost without a second’s thought. This leads us to ask: if this is how he treats those closest to him, those whom he knows best and those with whom he may be expected to have the greatest sympathy, what does that say about his connection with everyone else? That is why so much of the last half season 2 was about Angel’s need to make a connection with humanity by starting to understand and appreciate his co-workers. And that is why I think it is an interesting and important piece of continuity that the writers chose to devote a significant part of this season to showing how successful his efforts had been.
The key episode here is “Carpe Noctem”. In this episode we see someone called Marcus, who had significantly a history of working alone, switch bodies with Angel. With the vampire’s powerful and immortal body, this FakeAngel begins to behave in a completely self-centered way. He tries to seduce Fred. He bites Lilah and he is even comfortable with the idea of killing people just to feed himself. As he says to Angel:
“You're the one who doesn’t seem to know what you had. Far as I can tell you were the world's worst vampire. Vampires don't help people, you moron, they kill them.”
The fact that Marcus is so completely self-centered is in itself, of course, wholly unimportant. But what becomes important about it is the fact that, by contrasting Marcus’ behavior with that of Angel, we see how different the latter is. We see in particular the connection he has forged with Wesley, Cordelia, Fred and even Gunn. Theirs is now a genuine friendship. Moreover we see the importance of that friendship. And the ultimate demonstration of this importance lies in the way that Wesley, Cordelia, Gunn and Fred all turn up at a retirement home where FakeAngel’s has gone to kill RealAngel in spite of the real risk to themselves of doing so. In this episode “Omega Man” is mentioned a couple of times. As Fred pointed out, in that movie Charlton Heston (that other strong, silent archtype) was so lonely because he was the last man on Earth:
“Omega being the last letter of the Greek alphabet, so it's a metaphor.”
Yes, even the Charlton Hestons and the Angels of this world need friends. It’s no wonder that, in one of the episode’s other more obvious excursions into metaphor, Angel tells Marcus:
“And I'll tell you why you have a weak heart, Marcus. You never use it.”
“Carpe Noctem” lies in the middle of a run of episodes devoted to the dynamics within “Angel Investigations.” The other two, “That Old Gang of Mine” and “Fredless”, are admittedly about more than simply how Angel relates to Fred on the one hand and Gunn on the other. Both are important character pieces in their own right for the latter two individuals. Nevertheless in these two episodes the relationship that each of them has with Angel specifically (and not just the other members of Angel Investigations as a whole) is central to the resolution of their character-related issues. In “That Old Gang of Mine” Gunn is confronted with a dilemma: should he do the right thing or should he show loyalty to Rondell and his former friends. And the writers chose Angel to be the key to solving this dilemma. Because of what happened to his sister (and indeed because of a long history of warfare) Gunn still hates and fears vampires, even one with a soul. He would never have taken easily to anyone trying to boss him around but above all he finds it impossible to accept a vampire trying to do so, a fact of which we have already been reminded in “The Shroud of Rahmon”. And indeed in “Epiphany” Gunn was far more hostile to the returning Angel than either Wesley or Cordelia who had more reason to be angry. But in the end he chose Angel Investigations over his old gang and he did so specifically because of what Angel meant to him. What connected them was “the mission”. While Gunn would have a difficulty relating to Angel on a personal level, he knew that Angel had the mission. And that came before his ties of loyalty to his old gang. It was, therefore, the fact that he had this connection with Angel and not his ties with Wesley or Cordelia that persuaded Gunn to abandon those old ties and fully commit himself to Angel Investigations.
Then too in “Fredless” we see the centrality of Angel to Fred’s decision to join the team. This episode saw her reverse the retreat from reality that had marked her since her return from Pylea. Finally she accepted that the monsters in Pylea were real and that they had marked her – permanently. She also now accepted that following her parents back to Texas would have been a continuation of her denial of reality. Remaining in LA was to accept that not only were there monsters that had to be fought but that she was now different from the person she had been before. And this changing attitude is mirrored in the her changing view of Angel. At first he was a symbol of the illusions she had created for herself. Whereas the monsters from Pylea threatened her, Angel saved her and protected her. Her dependence on him was stressed from the moment we first saw her literally counting the minutes he was away. She was so happy when he invited her out for ice cream and she was so impressed by his bravery and strength. But above all, despite Cordelia’s best efforts, she also maintained the illusion that Angel saw her as more than a damsel in distress – the happily ever after was still possible. But what changed was the fact that, in “Fredless”, it was Fred who was the one who saved the day in general and Angel in particular. She was the one who figured out the truth behind the bug attacks, that one of their number had laid eggs in the Durslar demon’s head and when Angel brought it back to the hotel they had ended up tracking him to reclaim the eggs. And more importantly than that, when Angel was at a disadvantage and asking:
“Who's helpin' me here?”
it was Fred who destroyed the Durslar head with her little axe throwing device, thus releasing the newly hatched eggs to the adult bugs. And this new relationship with Angel symbolized the way she had moved to become a fully-fledged and contributing member of the team.
But while all of these episodes show us that Angel is central to Angel Investigations, they also show us that ultimately it is the team that counts. It was important that Gunn and Fred remain part of the team. And without the team Angel himself would have been lost in “Carpe Noctem”, “That Old Gang of Mine” and “Fredless”. So, what we can see from all of these episodes is that Angel is no longer a single individual fighting for his own redemption on his own terms. Rather he is the focal point of a team and it is the team which helps the helpless. And because of this, his struggle for redemption too has switched focus. Redemption cannot be a matter of him personally piling up enough credit to outweigh what Angelus had done. Rather redemption now lay in the way he helped people – through being a team player and through this helping him to connect with the world.
A Gothic Romance
Since “Epiphany” the writers have been stressing the closeness of the relationship between Cordelia and Angel. There the former was the one held captive by the Skilosh in the Sharp’s house. In “Belonging” she was the one transported to Pylea where she was held as a slave. And right at the start of season 3 we have “The Vision Thing”. Lilah has arranged for a “mind hacker” to attack Cordelia through her visions. She does so for an ulterior purpose. She wants to blackmail Angel into helping her free a young man from prison in a demon dimension. And, as Angel’s reactions show, she chose her target well. When Cordelia has her first vision everyone else rushes for the books and only Angel shows concern about her. Wesley tries to ask her questions about what she saw but Angel is more concerned to find out what was wrong with her. Then Angel was the one who took the lead in finding out about the boils and clawmarks that characterized the vision. After that, he was the one who had to persuade Cordelia to accept the Lorne’s help. It was to Angel alone that Cordelia confided how frightened she was. When Lilah spoke slightingly about her Angel reacted angrily. It was Angel who single-handedly decided to save her by releasing the prisoner. In doing so he seemed to entertain no doubts and brusquely overrode Wesley’s (admittedly feeble) objections. And finally he defended the decision to Cordelia when she herself raised objections. Clearly the writers were putting a huge stress on the personal connection between the two.
Even at this stage the direction that the writers were taking the relationship between the two was pretty clear. First of all in “Birthday”, they revealed that Angel’s concern for Cordelia was fully reciprocated. She first of all agrees to give up her visions when she believes (erroneously as it turns out) that Angel didn’t value her. Then when she discovers the dire straits into which he had fallen she agrees to an enormous sacrifice to help him out. In her alternate reality she had achieved fame, wealth and happiness – all that she could possibly have desired. And not only does she give that up, she also agrees to become part demon in the face of dire warnings about what that would mean:
“The process isn't easy. It'll make your vision pain feel like a stroll through CandyLand. And even after the agony subsides, the effects of the transformation would be numerous and unpredictable. “
But then in “Waiting in the Wings” we see that, on Angel’s side at least, his concern for Cordelia is romantic in nature. He hasn’t been able to say or do anything about that, though, because of his fear of the consequences of launching himself on another doomed romance. But through his experiences with the dancer in the phantom ballet he realizes that he too can change things. He doesn’t have to accept a fate that others seem to have decreed for him. Having already understood and accepted his own attraction to Cordelia from the beginning of the episode, he now realizes that he can and should do something about it. Of course, this being true love its course doesn’t run smoothly and Angel’s ambitions are thwarted by the return of Groo and Cordelia’s unwillingness to see the same romantic possibilities between herself and Angel as he does. And indeed the next episode “Couplet” features very heavily Angel’s insecurities over Groo and jealousy over the attraction between him and Cordelia. The two are obviously connected. In the end, however, the sacrifice that he makes so that Cordelia can be happy with Groo only serves to underline how much he does love her. And in succeeding episodes like “Double or Nothing” and “The Price” the writers affirm that he is as central to her world as she is to his.
"Angel's feelings are the only ones I care about. He's my priority. I got dosed with demon DNA for that man. I'm semi-demon and I still don't know what that means."
And ultimately of course she admits the truth to herself (and I mean that literally since the realization comes in a conversation between herself and her own ghostly apparition):
Phantom Cordelia: "Maybe on some level I've always known it's true."
Cordelia: "I have? It is?"
Phantom Cordelia: "I'm in love!"
Cordelia: "I am? I am! With Angel, right?"
Phantom Cordelia: "With Angel!"
Cordelia: "Just checking."
Phantom Cordelia: "I'm scared. But I know it's right. I know somehow it's all gonna be alright."
I am in general no great fan of Gothic Romances. And I have no desire to see Angel turn into a supernatural soap opera. However, the whole point about a romance between Angel and Cordelia is that it is supposed to be a sign of normality. It shows that Angel is now thinking about things other than “the mission”, that he is concerned with more than just the need for his own redemption. A life outside such concerns is now important to him. But more than that - it is possible. In “Waiting in the Wings”, it is Angel’s past that seems to separate him forever from the possibility of such a normal relationship. And, as we have seen, the crucial point about this past is not so much the memory of what he has done as the danger that, at any moment, that past can reach into the present either through a return by Angelus or because Angel himself, damaged as he is by the legacy he carries with him, might make some crucial mis-step. So, the fact that Angel now feels sufficiently in control to pursue a relationship with Cordelia must show that he feels that he has changed sufficiently to reduce this danger. In other words it is a clear sign of his own redemption in the sense of seeing that which was scarred and broken in his life now beginning to heal. If we compare the developments in “Waiting in the Wings” to what we saw of Angel in “To Shanshu in LA” we now recognize that Angel is no longer cut off from humanity. Even as a vampire, he now believes that he can change and he can grow. He does have wants and needs for himself. So, it must follow therefore that he is in some way a part of life. And because of this the danger of his old obsessiveness, self-indulgence and self-destructiveness returning to haunt him is reduced. In “Offspring” when Fred is puzzled about the concept of Angel’s shashu, Wesley explains it in the following terms:
“In his case it meant that someday the vampire in him might die but that the human in him might live. “
Now that is a subtle twist on the explanation put forward earlier. But it is an explanation that fits entirely with the thrust of this season. Angel is indeed part human and part vampire. And his redemption is indeed, therefore, a matter of allowing the human part of his nature to live and the vampire part of it to die. So, to the extent that his ability to connect with the world helps brings this about, it is part of his redemption.
My Son, My Son
But the most significant development in the season – even more so than Angel’s budding romance with Cordelia – lay in the fact that Angel became a father. And here too symbolically the duality of Angel’s nature is important. He has a human soul but he is physically a vampire and this fact constitutes a major barrier to the ordinary things in life that we take for granted. It isn’t just that Angel is a creature of the dark, as opposed to a creature of light and color. As we saw with Cordelia the fact that he is a vampire makes him so very different from normal human beings that any relationship is problematic. But in “Offspring” and “Quickening” we find out that Angel is going to have a son – a human child. So, his life would therefore now be shaped and conditioned by this fact in a way that was simply incompatible with the existence that he had experience up to now. And the counterpoint between him and Holtz in the latter episode shows just how he may be affected by this. The mere fact that Angelus and Darla chose to send him a message by slaughtering his wife and children shows that they were the most important things in his life. And this is confirmed by Angelus calling Sarah the apple of her father’s eye. But chiefly we see the significance of a family for Holtz in the way he behaved after he lost his. He turned from a good man into a vengeance obsessed vigilante, not terribly different from Angel of his “beige period.” And just as Holtz’s now dead family were his connection with ordinary life so too must Angel’s new family life be his. And in this sense we may perhaps be seeing at least the potential for Angel to undergo a “quickening” or a coming to life of his own through his connection with his family.
And this is what we find in “Lullabye”. Throughout this episode Angel leaves reason to one side and follows his emotions – emotions determined by his impending fatherhood. That is why in spite of all evidence to the contrary he believes in Darla’s maternal instincts:
"What I do know is that you love this baby, our baby. You've bonded with it. You've spent nine months carrying it, nourishing it..."
He even believes in the possibility of the two of them raising the child together. Hopelessly naïve this attitude may be but it also expresses Angel’s state of mind. He knows vampire nature as well as anyone. But such is the love he feels for the child that her thinks that Darla has to feel the same way, even though she never loved anything else in her life. And ultimately that is why he refused to leave Darla in the alley. As far as he knew the child was dying and Darla should die at Holtz’s hands. He was doing neither of them any favors by staying. But he could not leave them because he cared so much. Here we see a very powerful counterpoint between the reality of a soulless vampire and a human with a soul. The message of the writers is conveyed in the very starkness of the contrast. It is that the concept of a choice between good and evil for a demon is meaningless because they do not and cannot love. They do not and cannot care about human beings. That is why Darla, when influenced by a human soul, is willing to kill herself to save the child. But once she had ceased to be so influenced she would have reverted to the merciless killer she always was. She would simply have no choice because that was her nature. But having a soul gives you the ability to love and to care and with that comes the ability to choose to care about others. And that was what we saw with Angel and his son. Of course, while the child was still in Darla’s womb his concern manifested itself in the simple desire to see the baby delivered safe and well and to ensure that it did not fall into the wrong hands. But the full range and weight of responsibility of fatherhood could not really be understood while the child was still to be born. It was only when Angel was confronted with the reality of that tiny human life that the full force of what it meant to be a father hit him. It would I think be no exaggeration to say that taking care of Connor was more important to Angel than anything else had ever been. The combination of hope and fear that was now Angel’s lot hardly needed to be pointed out. There was hope for the future. As Darla pointed out to Angel towards the end in Lullaby:
Darla: “We did so many terrible things together. So much destruction, so much pain. We can't make up for any of it. You know that, don't you?"
Darla: "This child - Angel, it's the one good thing we ever did together. The only good thing."
Here was something (more properly someone) that Angel had helped to create that would be untainted by his past. His connection with that new and pure life could itself be described as a form of redemption. In “Double or Nothing” as Angel pondered the what-might-have-been’s in the aftermath of Connor’s disappearance we see what the child meant to him:
Angel: “You think you know something about living, cause you have this really long past. And that's really all you have, in my case anyway. Then one day you wake up and you have something else...”
Cordelia: “A future.”
Angel: “I had a son...”
For Angel, Connor was in every sense a unique opportunity. Not only was he an unrepeatable phenomenon in his own right – he also represented irreplaceable possibilities for Angel to gain a connection with the world in which he lived but had never been able to be really a part of.
And yet, because of the unique importance of Connor to him, there is fear as well – fear for the child and more particularly of failing the child. A boy’s father has a very powerful influence on the way he grows up, on the sort of man he becomes. How do you deal with that sort of burden? Then there is the fact that the child is so vulnerable, not just in the ordinary way of humans but in the enemies he had managed to collect just by being born.
So, it is hardly surprising now that, for Angel, Connor was now the limit of his horizon – the only thing that really mattered to him. And the counterpart to that was that Connor was now completely his responsibility:
“I’m his only family. My job now is to be everything for him.”
This was the attitude that Cordelia took him up on. In a way that is typical of her no-nonsense approach to life she confronted him with the limitations on himself as both vampire and father to demonstrate to him just how unrealistic he was being:
“We’re going outside – where your son’s gonna want to go play. Where you’ll have to rush him to the hospital when he gets sick in the daytime. But I see your point. You can’t go outside in the daylight like other parents because you’re a vampire and even if you weren’t you can’t do everything for him.”
The point she was making was that Angel had to let others help him. He couldn’t just think in terms of himself and his son. There had to be room in his world for friends who would go out in the daylight, who would look after the boy when his father was sleeping or away doing other things. She was telling him not to forget what he had learned so painfully when he abandoned his friends and concentrated on his own narrow concerns once before. And he heard her. Angel ultimately trusted his child’s life to his friends. He became the bait to lure those interested in Connor away from him. But by adopting that role he was also accepting that if a threat did emerge at the hotel he wasn’t going to be there to save Connor. That would be left to his friends. And this represented an acceptance of his need for others even in this the most important and deeply personal part of his life. Fear for a child is a perfectly normal human emotion. But it was in his acceptance of his friends' help that we see Angel avoid the trap of obsession and self-indulgence over Connor. This is yet one more example of the humanizing effect his connection with them had.
Making the Connection
So three different forces are now exerting a pull on Angel that changes the direction of his life. His son, Cordelia and his other friends are creating a new dynamic for him which means that his life cannot any longer simply reflect its former obsessions and the concerns.
There isn’t of course quite the same sense of focus here as we saw in the season 2 Darla arc. There the thematic development was concentrated into a single (largely) coherent story, which had an almost novel-like quality. Not even the central “Connor” arc– from “Offspring” to “Dad” – dominated season 3 in the same way. But even though there was a much more episodic feel to much of the season in terms of plot, thematically (as I have tried to show) it did hang together pretty well. There was a genuine sense of direction. By this I mean that there were developments in character and theme. These developments represented genuine growth and change. There was nothing repetitious but equally everything was incrementally built on what had gone before, rather than being pulled out of thin air. And those developments in character and theme fitted together very well. Character development wasn’t forced to meet the demands of theme. So what we saw was both credible and interesting. More than that, however, it helps to create the sense that there is coherent plan for the series. In particular the continued focus on the idea of redemption – what it means for Angel in particular but also how the idea itself relates to the world in general. This continues to be very much the focus of the series and in my view it is all the better for that.
But that doesn’t not mean to say that the thematic development of the season is without problem. And the chief shortcoming here lies in a tension between Angel’s need to connect with certain individuals and his mission. As I have already said, it is fair enough to ask: if Angel cannot connect with his own friends, then what chance does he have of connecting with the world. But it does not follow that, simply because he does connect with some people, he must also do so with everyone else. His friends might, for example, fulfill some emotional need in him. Managing to achieve a close relationship with them may, therefore, itself be an example of the sort of self-centered behavior that we saw at the start of season 2. So, if the idea is to portray Angel as being led to have a greater connection with the world (and therefore to create a synergy between saving the souls of others and his own) through having a son and a closer relationship with Cordelia the others, then some care has to be taken. Unfortunately, this care was found wanting.
First and foremost there is little evidence that I can cite for Angel using his new-found connection with others to save anyone’s soul. The nearest that I can come to it here is “Waiting in the Wings” where Angel did draw parallels between his situation and that of the ballerina. Just as he urged her to break free of a pattern of behavior that seemed to be control of her life, so too did he realize the same possibilities were open for him. And in a season of 22 episodes of a series that is supposed to be about Angel helping others, this is an alarmingly thought. Instead we get a relentless focus on Angel and the way he connects to his son, to Cordelia and to his other friends. I would argued that there is nothing wrong in concentrating attention on our core characters. In fact that is all to the good. They are the people that we know best. They are the people who can be most fully developed as characters. They are the people who are therefore the most interesting and with whom we have developed the greatest sympathy. Our interest can best be engaged not so much by the help they give to others but the meaning of that help and the way it is given has for these central characters. But the raison d’etre of ANGEL remains the mission and how out titular vampire goes about it. And when the series loses focus on the mission to the extent that it did so in this season, then it loses its own “soul”. And in the case of this season that is particularly troubling. As I have already said surely the significance of Angel making a connection with Connor, Cordelia and the others is that it helps him connect with the world. And it is by doing that that he is better able to save others’ souls. After all if that is not the ultimate purpose of him gaining a son or friends or a romantic attachment then these are all simply self-indulgences quite at odds with the mission of a creature like Angel with his past and his need for redemption.
For me, the most blatant example of the writers crossing this particular line came in “Provider”. There, the need to make money to provide for his son seemed to make Angel totally indifferent to the needs of anyone else. But worse even than that, the only thing that made him realize just how badly askew his priorities were was a threat to Fred’s life. Again it’s almost as if the writers were saying that really it doesn’t matter to Angel what happens to anyone else; what he really cares about is his own close group of friends. Nor can “Provider” be dismissed as an isolated example of bad writing. Take “Double or Nothing”. This was an episode in which we were intended to see the strength of Angel’s commitment to the remaining members of Angel Investigations, as exemplified by his words when he finds out that Gunn is in danger from a demon named Jenoff:
“We are not losing another member of this family.”
But others die horribly at Jenoff’s hands and the writers show no interest in them at all. We are invited to be happy that Angel saved Gunn and to see in the fact that he did so a symbol that Angel does after al have a future even though he has lost his son. But crucially the writers seem to be encouraging us to forget about everyone else. As I asked in my review: what then is the point of Angel Investigations? Is it nothing more than a tight knit family group intended to protect one another or is it intended to serve a higher purpose - helping others. If it is then surely Angel’s future lies in helping all Jenoff’s victims, not in rescuing members of his family. For an episode that was supposed to be about putting Angel back on the right path after the trauma of losing his son, “Double or Nothing” seems to take a distressingly narrow view of what that path is. And it is a path that seems to be reserved for members of his own “family” and to have little space for the world in general.
This was bad enough but the writers’ treatment of the relationship between Angel and Cordelia was even worse. Although a concentration on romance for the sake of it doesn’t appeal to me, showing a very close attachment between two characters can have a very important thematic role. It can for example show that such attachments lead to selfishness and blindness which have consequences for the protagonists. This was after all the driving force between the Angelus arc at the end of season 2 of BTVS, perhaps that series’ finest moment. But ever since the B/A love affair came off the rails so spectacularly in season 2 of BTVS for precisely those reasons, ME seem to have very little interest in exploring these ideas. Typically relationships in the Buffyverse, for example, conform very closely to the traditional soap opera concept in that they form a continuing story on their own, quite independent of the main plot of an individual episode or even of a season-long arc. They are also often sentimentalized and perhaps even melodramatic in nature. And unfortunately I am afraid that is what we see here. In episodes like “That Vision Thing” and its companion piece “Billy” the writers largely ignored the obvious moral and thematic implications of Angel’s single minded determination to save Cordelia at all costs simply because of his feelings for her. Angel (aided and abetted by Wesley) effected Billy’s escape after having been warned that he was a menace. Of course for Angel the motivating factor was helping Cordelia and he did not know for certain that Billy was dangerous. No doubt he too felt as if he were being left with little choice. But the truth was that he did have a choice and he had to take responsibility for the consequences of that choice. But nowhere do the writers recognize this. In “That Vision Thing” we are invited to accept at face value that Angel had no choice but to save Cordelia. There is astonishingly little debate about whether it is right to save her and risk unleashing real evil in the world. Worse still in “Billy” where we saw the consequences of the evil in action, the principal focus lay in a heavy handed piece of social commentary and the treatment of the real issue of responsibility for the consequences of one’s choice was hopelessly confused. The agent for resolving the issues posed by Billy’s release was Cordelia, who bore no responsibility for Billy’s release while the person who did so – Angel – was reduced to a mere bystander.
But ANGEL as a series must be all about consequences. As, for example, “Prodigal” showed, Liam wanted nothing more than a life full of pleasure. But it was his reckless pursuit of this pleasure and his disregard for the contrary values his father tried to instil into him that caused him to attract the attention of Darla in the first place. Out of her desire to turn him came Angelus’ murderous career. And, as we saw in “Five by Five”, his excesses (born out of Liam’s resentments against his father) led directly to the Gypsies revenge: the restoration of a human soul in a vampire body and the creation of Angel. Angel’s deeply felt need to redeem Darla, which had its origins in the parallels he imagined between his own situation and hers, precipitated the “Angel goes Beige” arc in season 2. Here we see Angel, in reaction to her damnation, lose faith in his own redemption. But he ultimately gained a new and better perspective on the issue of that redemption because of the moment of complete despair that he shared with her. And that moment in turn led to the birth of his son. Finally, it was Wesley, intending to save both the father and the son from Angel’s own vampiric nature, the seeds of which lay in the actions of both Liam and Angelus, who condemned Connor to Quortoth because he could not bring himself to trust his friends. Again and again we see the inevitability with which each misplaced action brings with it sorrowful consequences which in turn lead on to others. And that this is so is not only a strength, it is a necessity for a series about redemption. After all, redemption is about facing up to the consequences of wrongdoing. So, where the dramatic needs of the romance between Angel and Cordelia so clearly distorts the thematic development of the series in such an important respect, it is very disappointing.
- Citation :
- Now, these kids are not destined. In fact, loving each other was a byproduct of their destinies in the sense of their destinies brought them together, but them loving each other actually pushed against their destinies. Their destiny is the mission. Their love distracts from that. The mission wins out. This is their great tragedy. ~ anythingbutgrey, about Cangel
Nombre de messages : 31378
Age : 28
Localisation : Belgique
Date d'inscription : 02/12/2006
|Sujet: Re: Analyse de la saison 3 Sam 24 Avr 2010, 14:42|| |
- Citation :
- Nothing Lasts Forever
Of course, redemption is a journey and not a single event. As we have already seen from the developing themes of seasons 1 and 2, there is rarely just one path available. The trick is to choose the right one. And even then, the voyage cannot be a smooth one. Anything that is not difficult cannot be worthwhile. Angel’s struggle for redemption would hardly be worth telling if it wasn’t a challenge. The story of his path to greater humanity was always, therefore, going to meet difficulties. The obvious antagonists in season 3 were Sahjahan and Holtz on the one hand and Wolfram and Hart on the other. Indeed the interest of both in Angel’s son was obvious from the beginning. But this is not where the real challenge to Angel came from. As we have seen, Angel’s life was changed by the arrival of his son bringing with him new possibilities of a future. And a lot of time this season was devoted to showing how close the connection between Angel and everyone else at Angel Investigations had become. We have seen the extent to which Angel placed his trust in his friends, even going so far as to leave Connor in their care. Therefore it was not only appropriate but necessary that, when the crisis came, it would involve a threat to Connor arising from a breach of his trust by one of his friends. In this way, almost all of the foundations upon which Angel’s struggle for redemption is built come under attack simultaneously.
And it is no co-incidence that this attack takes place in an episode about loyalty. At the beginning of “Loyalty”, we see Wesley dead to the world, slumped over a pile of books. He has been working all night and seems to have fallen asleep through exhaustion. This is the sort of dedication that we have come to expect from Wesley. We also see Gunn’s reaction:
"You got to admire the loyalty. All night here, hitting the books. Logging serious alone-time, delving into the secret mysteries of...”
But it is not only the loyalty that Wesley feels to Angel that is important. When someone tries to betray members of his team to Holtz, Angel gives this stark warning:
"Holtz is one of the good guys. He has every right to hate me. And if he ever comes close to one of my people ever again, or tries to touch a hair on my son's head I'll kill him and anyone who gets in the way. You might wanna mention that."
Angel’s remorse over what he did to Holtz is genuine. His sympathy for all of Holtz’s group is equally real. But none of that counts for anything when compared to his loyalty to his own people. With him, they must come first.
But in spite of this mutual bond of loyalty, ultimately Wesley betrays the other members of the team. He concealed information about Connor’s predicted fate from Angel and the others, thus depriving them of the opportunity to help him with the problem. And he turned for help instead to Angel's enemy - Holtz. Wesley’s was not only a dangerous action from a practical point of view. It shows a basic lack of trust and respect for anyone else on the team and in particular for Angel. And trust is the key here. Wesley takes the budding relationship between Gunn and Fred as a very personal rejection. And just as Fred chooses Gunn over him, he obviously fears that both would choose to side with Angel rather than him. And it is Angel that Wesley sees as the danger. His issues here are obvious and neatly summarized by Holtz:
“Angelus is in his nature. The beast will re-emerge. You've seen it. You know it. And that is why you are here. You're afraid he's going to kill the child. And you're right."
Because he fears that Angel will kill Connor Wesley, of course, cannot see his actions as betraying anyone. Rather he sees himself as trying not only to save Connor but also Angel from himself. And because he also sees himself as the only truly trustworthy person and that is why he alone is able to save both of them.
So, the ultimate cause for the loss of Angel’s son is his own history coming back to haunt him, a history that perverted the genuine feelings of loyalty of one of the members of his own team and turned it into something destructive. It destroyed Angel’s hopes of becoming a father and of having a future through his son. It destroyed the relationship between Angel and Wesley. In other words, just when it seems that Angel’s connections with his son and with his friends would allow him to leave behind him forever the obsessional, self-indulgent and self-destructive part of his nature that was a legacy of his dark past, that past reaches out and sends the process into reverse. And importantly it does so in Cordelia’s absence. As both “Forgiving” and “The Price” demonstrated, confronted with the shock of Wesley’s betrayal and the loss of his son and without his relationship with Cordelia to provide any kind of balance for him, Angel simply reverted to type.
In “Forgiving” he kidnapped and tortured Linwood to persuade Wolfram and Hart to help him get Connor back. All he succeeded in doing was to hand Wolfram and Hart control of his agenda. When they offered the spell to ake Shajhan material, he used it in spite of dire warnings about the consequences. In “The Price” these consequences manifested themselves: one man is dead, Fred is infected and the sluks might yet escape to threaten others. These were not the consequences that Angel intended. He was genuinely sorry that Phil was killed. He tried his best to help Fred and he was perfectly prepared to sacrifice himself to prevent the sluks from escaping and killing anyone else. But he places the safety of his son above any other consideration. Ultimately he might accept that carrying out the spell was the wrong choice because it didn’t work. But he as good as admitted that if something was available to help Connor then he would have taken advantage of it no matter what the consequences. And perhaps even more tellingly he willfully turned his back on the possibility of enlisting Wesley to help Fred because of his antipathy to the man who stole Connor from him. It is here that we see the return of Angel, the obsessive, the self-indulgent and the self-destructive.
But perversely the effect of all of this is simply to underline how important Angel’s connection with those around him really were. They were what made the difference between the Angel of say “Waiting in the Wings” and the Angel of “The Price”. In the one we see a balanced individual who sees a future for himself in the world and who brings to bear his own experiences and an understanding of human nature to save someone’s soul by showing them how to liberate themselves from their dark past. In the other we see someone who still cares about others but whose judgment is gone. With the connections he had built up over the course of the season largely gone, it is the darker side of his nature – the passion and the anger - that take control his actions and threaten him and others with destruction.
I am afraid though that, for all its promise, this part of the season ultimately disappoints. I say this for two reasons. First of all – in stark contrast to what happened in season 2 - no-one calls Angel explicitly on what he did. Gunn almost does but his main concern lay in the fact that Angel had endangered Fred. He basically ignored poor Phil so that doesn’t really count. But there is an even worse oversight. In my review of the episode, I quoted Cordelia on the subject of Angel’s remorse. Now I take that at face value because it is consistent with the character. But I would have much preferred if we had heard this from Angel himself. And I think that the this is an important oversight because we should be left in no doubt that Angel was on the wrong path here. I think he was; I think the writers intended us to see that he was. But that was an inference that we the viewers were left to make. In general I have no objection to the writers giving different sides to a problem and letting the viewers arrive at their own conclusions. I think I might have mentioned in another of my reviews the African “Judgment stories” in which moral dilemmas are laid out but no clear answer is given. Instead those who hear the stories are expected to think about and indeed argue about the conflicting moralities. But I don’t think this was meant to be such a story. Thematically the change in Angel doesn’t make sense unless we see Angel’s actions as unjustified. We are, of course, invited to understand why he did what he did and try to put ourselves in his shoes before judging him. But that doesn’t alter the basic responsibility that Angel has for the consequences of his actions and more clarity on this from the writers would have been welcome.
But worse still the whole mini-arc about Angel’s change of behavior over the disappearance of his son loses power because it is so short-lived. With Connor’s return in “The Price”, Angel was faced with an entirely different set of problems – how to win the trust and love of the teenager. I had up to that point been expecting some sort of continuation of Angel’s descent into darkness, with the possibility of him trying to take revenge on Wesley. Instead, the story of Angel driven by a self-indulgent obsession over the fate of his son is abandoned. This may ultimately a good thing because otherwise we were in danger of a repetition of “vigilante Angel” of season 2. But it nevertheless meant that the “Forgiving” to “the Price” mini arc was effectively a cul-de-sac that led nowhere.
His Father’s Son
For all of this, however, there is an important parallel, between Wesley’s betrayal of Angel in stealing Connor and Connor’s own betrayal of his father when he returns.
Connor’s intervention to save Sunny in “A New World” suggested that he did have a moral outlook – a desire to do good, to help the helpless. That does not suggest someone who was simply brutalized by his environment in Quortoth. What marked him out, however, was his very black and white view of good and evil as well as his definition of an appropriate response to evil. When Sunny died his instinct was to look for revenge. This very much echoes Angel’s own attitude in his season 2 “Angel goes beige” arc. And as importantly it is reflected in Connor's attitude to his two fathers. The difference for him between Angel and Holtz is encapsulated in the following exchange:
Connor: "My father told me everything."
Angel: "Your father? Holtz isn't your father. He's..."
Connor: "You don't get to say that name! You don't even get to think it!"
Here we see the way that Connor’s view of his two fathers reflects Holtz’s own view of himself and the vampire with a soul. For him, the fact that Angel was now no longer the creature that destroyed his family or that he had done a great deal of good did not in any way lessen his culpability for what Angelus had done. Equally the fact that Holtz was driven by revenge and that in the name of that revenge he was himself capable of murder, kidnapping and condemning a child to a hell dimension means nothing more than that extreme measures are justified in the cause of righteousness. In contrast we see Angel’s very paternal concern for and patience with Connor – his unwillingness to give up on him and his readiness to sacrifice his own wants and needs for his son. This is a reflection of his own love for his son – a love which epitomizes the “only connect” theme of this season. For someone like Angel who needs to stop dwelling on his past, his sin and his guilt can there be anything more healthy than fatherhood, with the demands it places on our own character and the premium it places on teaching through personal example? And this is where Connor’s salvation lies no less than Angel’s own. And initially at least Angel’s efforts seem to be working. Holtz realized that, because of Connor's underlying connection with Angel, all his influence and the 16 years he had spent trying to mould “Steven” was lost. The vampire had a hold on his son. Holtz’s attempts to control “Steven” through deception are, in contrast to Angel's efforts, essentially selfish and as such lead inexorably to clearly evil consequences: suicide, lies and incitement to murder. But those attempts eventually succeed because (as with Wesley earlier in the season) of the ability of Angel’s past to reach into the present; the ability of the worst in him to continue to thwart the best. Connor, as we have seen, inherited his black and white view of the world from his father. More than that Connor had clearly had drilled into him Holtz view that his father was evil and that he was simply saving his soul for God. And the source of that unbending hatred was, of course, Angelus’ destruction of Holtz's own children. So the rupture between father and son and Holtz’s posthumous revenge was the direct result of Angel's own history coming back to haunt him. Once again this history led to the perversion of Connor’s feelings of loyalty to Holtz, turning it into something destructive – a hatred for his own father.
How Angel will react to his son's betrayal is for the future. But not only does he have to face this, he also has to face what appears to be the loss of Cordelia and what is, on the evidence of Skip's words to her in "Tomorrow", a very odd intervention by TPTB. We will have to see where this will lead to in season 4. But developments in the last quarter of the season suggest very strongly that once again the pendulum is swinging. This is a series where we see the continual struggle between the best and the worst within our characters. Often the worst (especially in Angel) is the past and its influence. And the best is the human spirit which strives to achieve good in the face of obstacles. Here we see the humanist heart of ANGEL.
Humanism re-asserted the primacy of the individual. That is to say it believed that humans are in-and-of-themselves worthy of serious contemplation, as opposed to the medieval view that study of anything except God was vanity. That is not to say that humanists were necessarily secular. Rather they were primarily interested in questions of what was necessary for a happy, adequate, and sufficient life here on earth. Humanism, therefore, means the constant striving (by reference to moral, social and ethical values derived from human experience and human reason) to get the best out of a person’s abilities, to develop his or her potential as well as possible and use it to serve others. But the emphasis on human individualism also recognized the fallibility of human beings. Indeed, the need for a moral, ethical and social framework by which to conduct our lives at all constitutes an acceptance of this very fallibility. Humanism recognized the leaden weights of our appetites and what we nowadays call our psychology with its accumulated baggage of inherited characteristics and experiences which together so strongly affect our behavior. And it also recognized the existence of the blind forces of fate over which we have no control. But in humanism, our supreme achievement lies in defying these various obstacles to extend our powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. That great political genius of the early Renaissance, Alberti wrote in his autobiography:
“A man can do all things if he will.”
This is a seminal statement of human dignity and could be almost the motto of Renaissance humanism. Towards the end of this season and especially in "Tomorrow" we see Angel's quest to achieve a connection with his friends, with Cordelia and above all with his son sorely tried. The ultimate source of his trouble lay in his own past and the effect that past still has on himself and others. And in this clash between the best and the worst in Angel and between his past and his hopes for the future we see the quintessential humanist struggle to see whether Alberti's words can indeed be vindicated or whether Angel’s own failings, past and present , will defeat him. And herein lies the fascination of the last part of the season and the promise for season 4.
Plotting the Season
As I have previously observed, season 1 of ANGEL was essentially episodic in nature. Occasionally one episode was directly linked to another. For example in “Five by Five” we saw Faith’s crisis of conscience over her past and where that was taking her. This quite naturally led to the story in “Sanctuary” where Angel tried to help her see her path to redemption, thus precipitating a confrontation between himself and Buffy. But these two episodes, while they fitted together very neatly, were only loosely linked to the other episodes in the season. For the most part in season 1 each individual episode stands on its own and significant events in them have effects which are limited to the same episode. In contrast season 2 is a powerful expression of the principle of subordination. The season has a single and all-important story to tell and events in an episode have their true a significance not in how they affect that episode but in how they affect the over-arching storyline. So, for example in season 2 “Judgment” and AYNOHYEB appear completely isolated from the main events of the Darla arc. Darla appears in neither of them and indeed the principal action in AYNOHYEB occurs many years ago. Nevertheless, in those episodes the writers foreshadowed many of the developments in the season by stressing how much Angel’s own redemption meant to him, how isolated from humanity he was otherwise and what the consequences of such isolation might be. And even the Pylea episodes – coming as they do after the events of “Epiphany” – represent a coda for the season long arc. That is to say the form a discrete story which, while structurally separate from the arc, sums up its main themes.
Season 3 lies somewhere in the middle of the continuum between these two extremes. The individual episodes of the season are grouped together in a series of individual arcs which are in turn linked to one another rather than every episode forming a part of a single overarching story. So, as I indicated above, we have in “Offspring” to “Dad” (which I will refer to for the sake of simplicity as the “Pregnancy arc”) the mystery of how Angel came to be a father, what that meant to him and to the world in general and how he had to protect his son from those who had an ulterior motive in seizing him. In “Loyalty” to “Double or Nothing” (“the Wesley arc”) we had Wesley’s betrayal and its consequences. And in “The Price” to “Tomorrow” (“the Returned Connor arc”) we saw Angel trying to deal with the reappearance of his son. In the first of these three arcs we explore Holtz’s attitude to Angel and his plans for revenge. It is this which turns Wesley’s betrayal into such a real tragedy as Holtz becomes responsible for Connor's disappearance. And it is in the events of these two arcs that we find the genesis of Connor’s state of mind in the last three episodes. So, each arc leads into the next but in spite of this there were significant differences in focus and purpose between them. In the Pregnancy arc, Angel had to balance competing pressures on him: to protect his son from an outside and malicious threat and at the same time to understand what his true purpose and significance is – a purpose and significance that could mean disaster for everyone else. In the Wesley arc we see how Wesley’s own psychological flaws led him to lose perspective and judgment and betray Angel from within his own circle of friends, thus precipitating a brief return to the obsessive and self-destructive Angel of old. And the third concerned a battle between Holtz and Angel for Connor’s soul, over whether he will indeed be “the destroyer”.
I will look at each of three individual arcs in more detail shortly. But I would first of all like to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of this structure. I have already mentioned one strength. Although, for reasons I have already given, we cannot see the season in terms of a single storyline, the three arcs do form a linked chain in which each segment leads on naturally to the next. This does not give us the same sense of a journey in which our hero is led from one place to the next. But it does nevertheless give us a feeling of unity and coherence to the season and this helps sustain interest. We are always asking what comes next. Another strength is that it allows greater scope for unexpected twists and turns. We were introduced to the initial threat to Connor from Holtz and Sahjhan but, as it turned out, the real danger emerged from within Angel Investigations. And the final confrontation lay between Angel and Connor himself.
But there were weaknesses in the structure too. The three separate arcs made it much more difficult to maintain consistency and continuity in plotting. A good example of this was Sahjhan himself. He was the one who mobilized Holtz in the first place so this raised very important questions about him. Who is Sahjhan? What does he want to do? And why? Throughout the season we are drip fed the information about him. We see that evidently Sahjhan has some sort of grudge against Angel:
"Listen to me, Holtz, we got prophecies to fulfill. We don't need some deep, dark plan for Angel. You put a stake in him, you watch him go poof! It's a classic."
But then we find out that Angel himself has never seen Sahjhan. So, as the latter has the power to move through time, this leads to the thought that he is Angel's sworn enemy because of something Angel will do in the future. But if it were as simple as Sahjhan having a grudge against Angel then there are plenty of things he could have done that were far less intricate and prone to falling apart than bring Holtz to this particular point in time. But later his obsession seems to be more with Connor than with Angel. When he finds Holtz uncooperative he goes to Lilah but here his agenda seems somewhat different:
Sahjhan: "I have a plan. But for it to work, I require a very rare and valuable ingredient. Getting it will be difficult, if not impossible. - I need the blood of Angel's son."
Thus it was Sahjhan who was behind the plan to spike Angel’s food with Connor’s blood, presumably with the intention of encouraging him to turn violent against the child. This seems to suggest that Sahjan's focus is Connor, since he seems more interesting in Connor dying than he does in Angel going the same way. And indeed in “Forgiving” we finally discover that it was Connor that Sahjhan was concerned about all the time. The prophecies had foretold that he would kill Sahjhan so Sahjhan rewrote them to convince Wesley to set in train the events that ended in Connor’s banishment to Quortoth. As Sahjahan told Angel:
“You're not really my enemy. Your in my home and I'm gonna kick your ass, but you where never the point."
This is a nice twist. The problem is that it doesn’t quite work. First, as we have seen there is too much in the earlier episodes to suggest Angel was the point. Then, even if Sahjhan separately manipulated Wesley and Holtz how could he have done so in a way which brought about Holtz action in jumping into Quortoth? There are too many uncontrollable variables in the way each reacted to the other. And if Quortoth was just a "happy accident", what was his plan. Was it simply to bring Holtz within range of the child and hope for the best? Not a very well-thought out approach is it?
And then even when the writers do successfully provide for one storyline to lead into the next, there is always a danger of leaving important issues hanging. And this happened twice. As I have already said one of the two main themes of the “Pregnancy arc” was the “Tro-clon”, the suggestion that Connor’s birth was part of a confluence of events leading perhaps to some sort of apocalypse. This was clearly significant. First of all the birth of a child to two vampires was inexplicable. Then it was associated with the portentous terms of the Nyazian prophecies and finally those prophecies seemed to link Connor’s birth with the arrival of Holtz in LA in terms that suggested their fates were linked in a way that had significance for the world. Too much effort was put into crafting this combination of factors to allow it to simply vanish from the radar. But that is pretty much what happened. After the Pregnancy arc, the Tro-clon cease to be a factor influencing the season. What are we to make of this? I simply do not know. But it is hardly satisfactory that we have been left with such a seemingly important issue just hanging in mid-air.
Then there was Angel’s reaction to losing Connor in the aftermath of “Sleep Tight.” I have already referred to these events and I will not go over the same ground here. It is sufficient to note that we see the return of Angel, the obsessive, the self-indulgent and the self-destructive. Now, this is good and realistic characterization. But it leads no-where. Indeed soon after, we see Connor return to Angel and the latter trying once again to connect with him. So this whole repeat of the Angel goes beige theme appears pointless. Particularly puzzling is his attitude to Wesley. Clearly the breach between Angel and the former Watcher was not meant to be quickly or easily resolvable. Given this there seemed only one direction in which the dynamic between Wesley on the one hand and Angel on the other could develop. The relations between them had now to be essentially antagonistic. But things didn’t turn out that way. At the end of “Forgiving” we saw Angel having to be pulled off Wesley after trying to kill him. What happened to this? Did Angel calm down and realize that killing Wesley would be wrong? Was he simply so distraught over the loss of Connor that, after the initial burst of anger subsided, he couldn’t summon up the will to do anything else? I don’t know and there is nothing in the remainder of the season to explain it. It’s as if the writers were no-longer interested in pursuing the question of how Angel regarded Wesley.
Having tried to look at the way the basic arcs of the season link to one another structurally, I think I should now look at the individual arcs in more detail. As I have observed before, the reason why the writers have an arc in the first place is to allow themselves time to tell a story where the themes, the development of the character and the action build together towards a climax. And in these three arcs we see evidence of these advantages. Let us look at the Pregnancy arc first. “Offspring” is itself mainly set up. Its three main developments are the discovery of the Nyazian scrolls with the Tro-Clan prophecy, the arrival of a heavily pregnant Darla and the appearance right at the end of Holtz looking for revenge. The good thing about this is that two of these events were well signposted. We have been aware of Holtz since season 2 and he was introduced to us as a very capable opponent for Angelus in “Hearthrob”. Similarly, not only did we already see Darla’s condition at the end of that episode, her pregnancy was a direct result of Angel’s sexual encounter with her at the end of “Reprise”. And that is a wonderful and imaginative piece of continuity. Sadly the same cannot be said for the prophecies. They were brought up out of the blue. There was no explanation about how they were discovered or how they were brought to the attention of Angel Investigations. There was no explanation as to which bits were missing and how they were needed to make sense of the bits the team already had. This was just careless, especially since the scrolls were so central to the arc.
But in subsequent episodes (in a very classic way for an ME arc) we begin to find out more and more about all of these elements and more and more complicating factors are thrown into the mix. We get a clearer sense of what the Tro-clon is and what its significance for Connor might be. We find more out about Holtz and his animus against Angelus. In particular we see just how scarred emotionally he is and just how dangerous he can be. We also become conscious of the role Sahjhan plays in pulling Holtz’s strings but as yet we do not know why. And finally we move towards the moment of crisis with Connor’s birth. Then we have a few wild cards to complicate matters. Clearly the most significant is Wolfram and Hart. Again we are conscious here of both the strengths and the weaknesses of this corporate villain. Not the least of these strengths is its hydra-like nature with the appearance of Linwood, yet another senior human figure within the firm appearing to pull the strings. Another is the resources at its command – across the full spectrum of its operations: electronic bugging, mind readers and psychics, medical expertise and para-military muscle. They have something to meet every need. And finally they have patience and planning. They can sit, await developments and when an opportunity presents itself they can put together a plan of action and execute it. But what I also like about Wolfram and Hart is that we also see the weaknesses of the corporation. Lilah is always good value and the way she and Gavin played off against one another for me really worked. They showed the biggest weakness in the firm, namely the rivalry of the key players within it. Unfortunately however, I think we missed both Holland and Lindsey. Holland was the smooth mastermind who gave the air of being in control of everything. Linwood for me was not an adequate replacement. Lindsey’s great strength was that he was a wild card – carrying with him a highly personal animus that made him unpredictable. But these problems paled in comparison with the vampire cult which made little impression. They are first and foremost something of a cliché. But worse still, their motivation and role in the story is confused.
But even allowing for weaknesses in points of detail such as this and the way in which the Nyazian prophecies were introduced, what we see here is a gradual unfolding of a pretty compelling story where the gradual release of information and the gathering of different threats build up the tension as we move to the climax of Connor’s birth. This created a very powerful impetus which greatly added to the impending sense of tragedy that was created in “Lullaby” Just when the major hurdles had been overcome and Angel had found a credible sanctuary, Darla’s pregnancy went wrong and there seemed no way to save the child. What we were left with was the feeling that the child’s end was an inevitability. Then Holtz attack provided yet a further complication to an already bad situation. This therefore raised the stakes so much that the gesture which resolved the danger became that much more important and that much more powerful. Darla’s sacrifice not only saved the baby but allowed Angel and Fred the chance to escape – something they could not otherwise have done. And equally effective was the final scene. I have already mentioned this but it is worth doing so again. When Holtz stepped out into the alley I did not doubt his intention was to kill. The attack on Caritas with the bomb was itself evidence of this. Shooting Angel or Darla with the crossbow was simply the final coup. The only question was whether the sight of a father cradling his son would persuade him to stay his hand. There was then a long pause where the audience was held in suspense waiting for an answer to this question. Then it seemed to get one with Holtz doing the right thing and staying his hand only for his final words to give an entirely different meaning to his actions. He is still after revenge - only this time he is prepared to be patient in order to make it more complete.
Dramatically this arc worked so beautifully not only because of the sudden and unexpected changes in fortune and direction. It worked because, thanks to the careful preparation we understood the full significance of each step along the way. We knew how important the child was to Angel, how much Darla had hated it and how much Holtz wanted revenge and it was this that gave meaning to each of their actions as they played out against one another. But there is a price to be paid for this and that price is to be found in the way that the story in each episode had to be completely subordinated to the need to further the arc. “Lullaby” succeeded well enough as a self-contained story in its own right. But “Offspring” and “Quickening, while they worked as part of the development of the arc, were themselves a little thin in terms of plot.
Nor is that the extent of the problems. The episodes that follow “Lullaby” exhibit two important weaknesses. Holtz is never quite the same opponent for Angel as he has been to date and the season enters a phase of drift – at least in terms of significant plot development. Up to the end of this episode Holtz had proven himself a more effective villain than any soulless demon. And that is important because the effectiveness of the plotting for this season depends crucially upon the quality of Angel’s opponent, especially since Wolfram and Hart here are reduced to what is essentially a supporting role. This is in itself not a bad thing because to have the same Law firm front and center as chief villain every season would devalue their currency. But it leaves a lot of weight on Holtz shoulders. The thing that distinguished him from Wolfram and Hart is that he conceives of himself as doing God’s work. Sometimes the most powerful drama is to be found in a conflict between two characters both of whom we can understand and to an extent sympathize with. We can see one of them may be in the wrong, but because we can accept that he acts out of human weakness rather than malice we see his situation as tragic rather than a simple case of good vs evil. So, it is important that we are given an understanding Holtz’s psychology. He was basically a decent man – a family man who risked his life to help others. But when he lost his family he became isolated from the rest of humanity - emotionally and spiritually as dead as any vampire. And in his isolation he has no longer any sense of right and wrong – just a sense of what will serve his need for revenge and what will not. That was why he made a bargain with a demon he once would have tried to destroy, even agreeing to be transported into the future through black magic and sorcery. that is why he welcomed an alliance with Grappler demons:
“Not the sharpest pencils in the box, but merciless in battle.”
And when ordinary human beings (of whom he knew nothing) got in his way that is why he cold-bloodedly saw them slaughtered. So, at one and the same time we see Holtz as a deeply human figure and at the other as being capable of almost anything. And having seen the way he pursued Angelus and the relentless and resourceful way in which he closed in upon Angel and Darla in “Lullaby” this makes him both a character that holds our attention and is very dangerous. That is why what follows is disappointing.
As he watched Angel and his son get into the car and drive away, in “Lullaby”, Holtz put his desire for revenge in the following terms:
“I swore that I would show no mercy. And I won't."
But the promise of these words is never quite fulfilled. That seems an odd thing to say in view of later developments. In “Loyalty” and “Sleep Tight” he completely outwitted Wesley (and the audience for that matter) in planning to kidnap the Angel’s son. He seems in “Sleep Tight” quite prepared to kill Justine unless she shows him complete and total loyalty and in the same episode he is quite convincing in his threats to kill Connor. And ultimately it is his single minded ruthlessness that provides the real power for the unfolding tragedy in the arc. We knew from the start that Wesley was trying to save the child, not hurt him. But Holtz’s decision to take both himself and an innocent child to Quortoth just for the sake of revenge is both unexpected and daring in its concept and execution. What he did with and to Connor was uniquely vicious and also psychologically very creative. Angel slaughtered his family, turned his daughter, and forced him to destroy his own child and now he in his turn managed to do to Angel pretty much what Angel had done to him. But there is no justice in his actions. Rather what he did was pointless, stupid, and self-destructive. And herein lies the tragedy – a tragedy that could not have happened without Holtz.
My problem is that this result came about almost accidentally and there is certainly no sense in which we can understand Holtz as working to bring it about. After “Lullaby”, there is a detectable change in his approach as he seems to learn patience and begins to put in place the elements he needs for his more painful revenge. In particular this involves recruiting and training others, most notably Justine. This means more set up – and over a protracted period too (from “Dad” to “Loyalty”). The problem is that we get is so limited and doled out in such a piecemeal fashion (a scene here and there in episodes about other issues) that what we really get is drift while the writers explore the relationship between Angel and Cordelia and throw in the odd (very bad) filler episode like “Provider”. There is no sense of Holtz moving to take any kind of direct action against Angel. In fact generally the episodes between “Dad” and “Loyalty”, if not quite a waste of time, in plot terms effectively brought the main developments of the season to a complete halt. This makes Holtz look pointless and ineffective and our protagonists – Angel in particular – look complacent and stupid. I mean is it realistic for someone to go to the ballet with almost all his senior lieutenants when he really feared there was someone very dangerous out there looking to take a terrible revenge on him by attacking his son?
And after this sense of drift, Holtz becomes largely a reactive figure. The opportunity to kidnap Connor falls into his lap because of Wesley’s actions. It begs the question, what would he have done of it were not for Wesley and the fact that there is no very obvious answer says a lot. But even his long term plan for revenge against Angel diminished him, amounted as it did to no more than kidnapping Connor so that he could raise him on his own. He only took the child to Quortoth because he was cornered and there seemed no other way out. As a piece of revenge what he seemed to have originally planned seems very mundane; there is no imagination, no real cruelty to match that shown by Angelus and Darla to his own family or even to match his own carefully nurtured reputation for ruthlessness and ingenuity. Surely he could have done better. The truth is that, by this stage Holtz has become an essentially secondary character here. It is Wesley, his internal struggle, his motivation and his planning that commands our attention and drives the agenda. As I observed earlier from the moment that Wesley decided that he was going to act unilaterally to save Connor, the nature of the threat facing Angel Investigations has changed from an external to an internal one. This is always a more powerful story than the good guys fighting the bad guys. First, the internal threat is always more difficult to guard against, especially when it comes from someone who is trusted. But perhaps even more importantly, it means that almost by definition there can be no good outcome. We may see Holt as a tragic figure but we still wish for his plans to be confounded. Where, as here, the “traitor” is acting out of the highest of motives and in a spirit of self-sacrifice his failure will be just as much a tragedy as his success.
Again what makes the Wesley arc is the careful preparation. In “Waiting in the Wings” we saw Fred chose Gunn over Wesley and the latter’s evident disappointment. And if anything Wesley was already a greater mass of insecurities than Angel ever was. It is, I think, a fair assumption that he began to “hit the books” over Connor as a reaction to his crushing disappointment over Fred. If he was rejected by her as not being good enough there was at least one thing that he did have confidence he could do. But what he found was the prophecy. Because of his background, Wesley would naturally take any threat by a father to a child very seriously indeed. He would see it as a special obligation on himself to protect that child. But how? We see clearly that, at least for the time being, he feels he cannot tell Angel. Cordelia is now gone for two weeks and in present circumstances it is doubtful if he can confide in Fred or Gunn. His personal issues over them means that he could not bring himself to trust them. So, he must now feel in a pressure cooker over what to do about Connor while at the same time he is dangerously isolated. Just when a premium will be placed on his judgment, the promise that that judgment will be exercised well was never less certain. And so the writers over a number of different episodes build up a picture of how Wesley’s good intentions were corrupted and betrayed by a combination of his own inadequacies and the hurts that the world wreaks on us all. We therefore get a more balanced and nuanced view of how and why Wesley did the wrong thing but without ever dodging the fact that what he did was wrong. And it is to this that we owe the credibility and the power of this arc.
But of course the writers were not finished yet. And having already given us in “Lullaby” and “Sleep Tight” two very powerful climaxes, they now hit us with a third: Connor’s revenge on his father. And again the hallmark here is careful preparation. It would have been too obvious and too easy to go down the route which attributed Connor’s hatred for his father to resentment over the thought that he had been abandoned to Quortoth as a child or that alternatively he was simply a brutal creature because of the way he had to fight to stay alive there. No, the writers went for a much subtler, more complex and ultimately more compelling backstory. Connor became a reflection of his two fathers – his genetic inheritance from Angel and the way he was brought up by Holtz. I have already gone into this issue so again I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say we have a very convincing picture of a teenager at war with himself. Connor it transpires is no simple clone of his Quortoth “father”. Both Holtz's teaching and his experiences in Quortoth pull him towards being an engine of vengeance and destruction – perhaps even the destroyer the sluks referred to. But pulling him in the opposite direction were his sense of himself and his own moral outlook. On several occasions in “Benediction”, Holtz referred to Connor’s need to see his father. There was nothing sentimental about this. Connor was the son of two evil creatures who had brought the man he called “father” so much grief. He replaced Holtz’s dead children and yet he called himself “a demon”. In these circumstances it is all too evident why he should feel the need to see and talk to his one surviving parent – to get some better understanding of who and what he is. He would be a very strange person indeed if he wasn’t deeply schizophrenic about Angel.
So both Holtz and Angel engage in a battle for Connor’s soul. Throughout he season Holtz has been depicted as a man whose sense of right and wrong had been warped by a desire for vengeance; a man who was prepared to go to any lengths in pursuit of that vengeance. In particular he was prepared to take a baby from its father and condemn him to a hellish existence simply out of hate. But in “Benediction” the accent changes; the focus is no longer on hate but on love. Admittedly it is a selfish love, twisted even. But this gives him the same connection to Connor as Angel himself. The question is – which is stronger. Given the gulf separating Angel and Holtz, we almost instinctively know that no compromise or accommodation between them is possible. Nor could Angel or Holtz easily reconcile themselves to a loss of Connor to the other. So, we have a confused teenager who will be forced to choose between his two fathers, inevitably destroying at least one of them in the process. And, while the audience is likely to be in favor of Angel regaining what was wrongly taken away from him, there is no “good” outcome to this situation because of the pain that Connor will suffer. It is because of the difficulty of the choice and the inevitability of tragic consequences regardless of which choice he makes that we feel it matters.
And the resolution of this conflict gave us the third very powerful crisis of the season. Out of a little mayhem and violence Connor and Angel bonded not in a touchy-feely way but as a team who moved and thought and fought alike. That just felt right. And while it did not entirely resolve the conflict within Connor about his identity it quite clearly pointed to the way in which they would be resolved – in favor of Angel and against Holtz. The fact that Holtz was in a position to see father and son bonding is hard to believe. But again this is a piece of license I can overlook because of where it led - Holtz’s realization that sooner or later he would lose out. That he would react to this prospect was never in doubt; that he would try to separate Connor from Angel seemed equally certain. But again this is where the plotting worked so well. His reaction seemed one of acceptance; he seemed almost defeated. He did not try to use the influence he still had with Connor to try to persuade him Angel was evil. He seemed to welcome an opportunity to crown Angel as his successor. But this was all simply to lull everyone, including the audience, into a false sense of security. Only at the end was the reality of Holtz’s plan revealed and we could fully appreciate the twist in the tale. In the best classical tradition, it is at the point where things seem brightest for Connor and Angel that things move decisively and unexpectedly against them. By faking his own murder, Holtz turns Connor against his father, thus leaving little chance of a way out of the tragic denouement. Angel falls into a trap because he is basically too decent to understand and fight the baser motives of those who would destroy him. This is indeed very powerful stuff.
And in Connor’s grief and rage we saw the worst of him – that part of him that was a reflection of his Quortoth father and perhaps his own genetic heritage. It wasn’t so much that he wanted to execute revenge on Angel himself. It was because he wanted that revenge to be telling. So, when he eventually did have Angel at his mercy, he was at last able to explain things to him:
Angel: "That's why you wouldn't let them kill me at the drive-in. So you could."
Connor: "Killing is too good for you. You don't get to die. You get to live - forever."
Living forever, chained in a metal box at the bottom of the Ocean. That’s some revenge. And let’s not forget, this isn’t a stranger. This is the person Connor knew was his biological father, the person he spent all that time and effort trying to get to see, the person with whom he had clearly bonded only a few short hours ago. And despite all of that he is willing to dismiss his emphatic denials by calling him “the prince of lies” (a euphemism I believe for the Devil) and ignore the words of forgiveness that Angel utters. The cold blooded calculation, the careful planning and execution, the self-control and the sheer cruelty to his own father do not strike me as being the result of a simple emotional outburst when confronted by some great grief. The difference between Connor’s actions here and Angel’s own in “Forgiving” make that much obvious. We are dealing here with someone who can, I think, be justly described as “the Destroyer”.
I must confess that I am very much in two minds about this ending. The tradition is for ME to wrap up each season with a natural end to the season’s storylines, so that things aren’t just left hanging. They give us a resolution, a sense that we have followed the tale to its conclusion rather than continually stringing us along to see what might happen next. Here they have done something quite different – they have given us a cliffhanger. The advantage of the cliffhanger is that the audience will want to know what happens next and they will be drawn along by the continuing storyline rather than having to build the tension and suspense anew. The disadvantage is that, whereas with a storyline neatly tied up at season end you get this satisfying sense of a journey completed and a challenge met, the cliffhanger becomes just another twist in a series of twists. The viewer is robbed of the emotional satisfaction of the ending. Having said that I really do like the direction the writers are taking Connor in. It is true that his breach with Angel is based on a simple mistake on his part and that mistake can be rectified at almost any time. The potential is there for the storyline to end in an anti-climax. But because the writers are showing us that Connor’s reaction to Holtz death was not just another emotional outburst but was the result of something dark within him I somehow don’t think matters will be easily resolved. But the set up for next season is clearly there.
This season lacked the single minded vision of season 2. It also lacked the driving moral behind that vision and the psychological depth that gave it meaning. Nor did it have anything to match the climax that was the slaughter of the lawyers in “Reunion” or the perfect despair of “Reprise”. But it did have a strong and important theme of its own and that theme – the need for Angel to connect – started out from where season 2 left of and developed organically from there. It's principal weakness lay in the fact that it never succeeded in relating Angel's need to connect to his son, to Cordelia and to his friends with his larger mission. Indeed it even managed to suggest that the two were in conflict and his loyalty to his friends was greater than the need to help others. There were related problems as well, for example, in the way in which Angel's relationship with Cordelia and his love for his son distorted the way the writers treated the consequences of some of Angel's actions. But in the main I think we do get a strong and honest treatment of what I see as the central question of the season: whether the good intentions, purpose and strength of character that Angel and the other enjoy are sufficient to overcome the frailties of their emotional baggage. Indeed the characterization of this season was far stronger and more consistent than in season 2. Wesley became an even darker figure (in both sense of that work, being more adult and to an extent more disturbing). Cordelia, after an uncertain start, again became a character I could be interested in. And Fred shows great promise. Of the members of Angel Investigations, only poor Gunn seems ill-served. And while Wolfram and Hart are reduced to secondary figures, in Holtz we have someone who, in the first half of the season at least, is a very effective combination of someone who thinks he is doing God’s will but who is being led to do evil by revenge and hatred. And where this season does score over season 2 is in the way in which, despite some structural weaknesses, it sustained three separate but interlinked arcs, each of which climaxed in moments of great power with Holtz and Angel confronting each other over Connor, Connor’s kidnap and the final seeming triumph of Holtz as Connor executes his posthumous revenge on Angel. And here we have the final great strength of the season. In the temptation of Wesley and the struggle for Connor’s soul, it has set up what promises to be a fascinating next season in a way that the second season with its coda at the end could not. So, ultimately while the season did not touch the same heights as season 2 and was not itself without its flaws, it strikes me as the strongest one to date. And my marking is intended to reflect this.
RANKING THE SEASON 3 EPISODES
For the full reviews of the Season 3 episodes just click on the links below:
Waiting in the Wings A
Sleep Tight A
That Old Gang of Mine B
The Price B
New World B
That Vision Thing B-
Carpe Noctem C+
Double or Nothing C
- Citation :
- Now, these kids are not destined. In fact, loving each other was a byproduct of their destinies in the sense of their destinies brought them together, but them loving each other actually pushed against their destinies. Their destiny is the mission. Their love distracts from that. The mission wins out. This is their great tragedy. ~ anythingbutgrey, about Cangel