AngelAngel 4x16 Players - Review
By Josh Buckman
Thursday 27 March 2003, by Webmaster
"Furious activity is no substitute for understanding."
The jig is up!
Evil Cordelia has been exposed for what she really is - evil. No more hiding under the covers, no more manipulative posturing and no more pretending to be nice. That’s right, she’s been outed by the gang and forced to let her evil flag fly.
All of her scheming and careful plotting wasn’t undone by some shocking revelation or boastful declaration to destroy the world. No, it was undone by simple, logical deduction.
Sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Well, it’s easier said than done when there is a giant Beast running around town, killing hundreds of human beings and blotting out the sun. Throw in a demon infestation and a maniacal killer hell-bent on torturing your friends and it can get a little hard to concentrate. Who has time to sit down and examine the facts carefully when so many lives are on the line?
Well, the sun got better, the Beast died and Angelus returned to the dark corners of Angel’s mind. The only priority left is discovering the identity of the Big Bad, and thinking about it is just about the gang’s only avenue of investigation. So Angel got to thinking and pieced together the following clues:
Little Girls Like to Tattle - "The answer is among you," is the clue the girl in the White Room gave the gang on her deathbed. While normally the members of the Fang Gang would be beyond suspicion, this little message is sure to have helped point Angel in right direction.
Her Big, Fat Tanned Belly - Cordelia’s pregnant. She did have sex with Connor, so that’s not so weird. What’s weird is that her belly is at 8 months while her baby is at a few weeks. Half-demons and higher beings aside, that is strange. Really strange. It would be enough to freak out even the newly matured, Saint Cordelia, big-time. This Cordelia was handling all it a little to calmly; not to mention the fact she kept it a secret from her friends.
Get Out of Jail Free - Who is the one who came up with the spell that was supposed to restore Angel’s soul but really didn’t’? Why, it was the same person who just happened to let Angelus out of the cage. Wasn’t it convenient that the spell "didn’t work" but managed fooled Lorne? Hmmm . . .
Surgical Strikes - This is the clincher. Manny’s mauling. The theft of Angel’s soul. Lilah’s murder. Only one person was present at all three events. Throw in the fact that the big bad refused to appear to Angelus and used an obviously disguised voice and you’ve got a pretty strong case against that one person.
These big clues, among others, point to our favorite compulsively hair-dyeing half-demon. Even so, you can’t just go accusing your friends without hard evidence. Angel’s proved he can be real sneaky in the past (think pretending to be Angelus for Faith’s benefit) and proves now he hasn’t lost his touch. Not only does he brilliantly taunt EC by calling her insane and sloppy, but he also cooks up a test with Lorne and the others that was sure to catch her red-handed.
And red-handed she was! The mystery is solved, but the story isn’t over. Many questions about Evil Cordelia and her sinister plot remain.
If EC’s major goal is to successfully give birth to whatever horror lives in her belly, why did she so desperately need Angelus? Was he merely a way to keep Angel and the gang distracted? Did she have some larger purpose in mind? Normally I’m against those unrealistic, lengthy monologues that villains always give when they’re caught that carefully details their plan, step-by-step. However, I really want to have all her stint as a higher being, her return and her walk on the evil side fully explained. Something inside me would love to see Evil Cordelia peel off her face, reveal her machinations and then snarl, "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling do-gooders and their pesky vampire!"
There’s still that possibility. Until then, let’s hope that she gets act like the truly nasty diva we all know she can be.
Playing or Getting Played?
The turgid supernatural soap opera continues as Fred and Wesley move closer to a comfortable place and Gunn hooks up with an electric hottie.
In order for romance to blossom between Fred and Wesley, they’ll have overcome quite a few mental and emotional hurdles. Fred will have to forgive Wesley for stealing Connor, chasing her with an ax and sleeping around with their mortal enemy. Wesley must forgive her for choosing Gunn, turning her back on him when he needed her most, and, quite possibly, for killing the professor.
Wesley tries to help Fred understand his side of the situation by telling her that sometimes it’s not just about holding hands. To paraphrase Missy Elliot, sometimes it’s about the gadunka-dunk-dunk.
But is it really? While I’m not denying the obvious attraction and desire that fueled their physical relationships, is that really what the Wesley/Lilah and Connor/Cordelia couplings were all about? Is it what they should have been about?
Connor, despite his raging teen hormones, would have loved to feel the warmth of genuine affection had not the object of his affection been harboring a secret agenda that involved deflowering the mixed-up boy. Who thinks that sex was a good idea for someone with his issues? What he needed was love and acceptance, not a night of fleeting pleasure.
Wesley and Lilah were enemies in a grand conflict that found comfort in one another. Only it wasn’t very comforting. Wesley hated himself for not only sleeping with the enemy, but for using someone as a stand-in for the person he really wanted. Lilah, on the other hand, found her carefully iced heart thawing just a bit and her walls of indifference slowly crumbling. Imagine if the two of them had allowed themselves a deeper relationship and really connected in the way that only two lost souls can.
Connor was lost and confused. Wesley was hurting from rejection. What made those two instances go from handholding comfort to a hop in the sack? Was it honestly a need for passionate sex and physical release, or is the sex only a pleasurable way of diverting attention away from the real issues?
Perhaps that is what Wesley was really telling Fred. It’s not about handholding and it’s not even about sex. It’s about hurting so bad that you’ll do anything to drown out the pain. It’s about making mistakes that you can’t ever take back because you’re too caught up in your own needs. It’s about being really stupid and hoping that you pull yourself from the rubble and start again.
Are Gunn and Gwen about to make one of those mistakes themselves? Gunn was used, abused and turned loose, all in one night, and he kind of liked it. One night away from the gang and he’s oh-so-willingly hooking up with the girl who nearly got him killed. Is he being there for her or his he merely trying to forget his failed relationship with Fred? Yeah, there’ll be some fallout ahead. You can count on it.
Not to get all lecturey, but it’s a fact of life that sex has its consequences, especially here in Buffy/Angelverse. Physical, mental, and (especially) emotional consequences. Perhaps instead of using sex as a substitute, the gang should start using a little love, trust and understanding.
Yeah, I know some of you are thinking: "Blah blah blah, people shouldn’t have irresponsible sex, but wouldn’t that hurt the ratings?"
It’s possible, but ratings themselves do not a show make. Okay, I admit, they tend to be kind of important. Right now, the ratings are okay, but they could be better. In fact, as you may or may not now, a host of WB shows have already been renewed, and Angel is not one of them. The decision will come in May, but until then, check out www.renewangle.com so see how you can join in the campaign to keep the show on television.
As for next week . . .
Skip is back with some answers about Cordelia and her baby! Also, as Cordelia gets closer to giving birth, some hard decisions have to be made.
Until then, hit the boards and keep the discussion alive while we can enjoy it.
See ya next week!
"Players" - Episode 4.17 (Original airdate 3.26.2003)
Directed by: Michael Grossman
Written by: Jeffrey Bell and Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
David Boreanaz...AngelCharisma Carpenter...Cordelia ChaseAlexis Denisof...Wesley Wyndham-PriceJ. August Richards...Charles GunnAmy Acker...Fred BurkleVincent Kartheiser...ConnorAndy Hallett...Lorne
Alexa Davalos...Gwen Raiden
After a tightly plotted, emotionally thick season, ANGEL was overdue for a filler episode; this week’s installment, "Players," was the first such episode. It was the first room to breathe we’ve had since "The House Always Wins," which aired back in October. Filler episodes don’t tie as tightly into the plot, focus more on B-characters than A-characters — and generally aren’t quite up to the standard of the stuff we see during sweeps. "Players," therefore, turns out to be a pleasant surprise. While not a standout episode — particularly not during this extraordinary year — it’s solid, it’s entertaining and it’s a long-overdue Gunn episode. And, as the last five minutes made thrillingly clear: it’s not just filler.
Cordelia’s revelation of her pregnancy understandably shocks the entire group. Wesley, Gunn and Fred gape like fish, while poor Angel just has to go sit down. Cordelia keeps repeating her belief that what she’s bearing is powerfully good; the other characters can’t see, like we can, the unnatural writhing of her belly. Connor is defensive, but tries to explain some of how he feels — the reaction shot of Angel, just after Connor talks about how scary it is knowing a baby’s coming, is piercing; once again, Connor’s talking to everyone but the one person who really understands. Angel breaks out of funk mode quickly, though, and sets everyone to researching — except Gunn, who’s there for muscle. Enter our electroshock guest star Gwen, who as it turns out needs a little muscle. Gunn is dispatched to help her rescue a kidnapped girl named Lisa.
As Fred and Wesley research, Fred keeps talking about Connor and Cordelia and the obvious ick factor involved. Wesley begins defending them — but as the conversation goes on, it becomes clear he’s really talking about him and Lilah, and the unlikely romantic alliances that spring up in times of crisis and alienation. Wesley is, after a fashion, loyal to Lilah, refusing to run her down to mollify a still creeped-out Fred; however, it’s unlikely he’d even bother to explain Lilah to Fred if he weren’t still cherishing hopes in that area. Perhaps Fred’s about to be even more available; as Gunn and Gwen plan their heist, they’re clearly hitting it off.
No hopes, it seems, are being cherished by Angel, who is clearly upset but otherwise fairly straightforward in dealing with Cordelia. As Angel talks out his theories about the Beast’s master, Cordelia tries to talk him out of his various ideas — but she’s not having that much luck. She fares better dealing with Connor, who is finally asking questions: Why did she tell him to kill Angelus? Why did she say Willow opened a gate to hell? Cordelia manages to convince him all over again, saying she may ask him to do some difficult things in future," but there will always be a reason." Speaking of difficult things, Wes and Angel are apparently getting nowhere in their research, but Lorne has realized how much his empathic abilities were damaged in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" and has come up with a ceremony that should restore them. Everyone else is happy. Cordelia is not.
Gunn and Gwen go to a large party where they can break in and rescue Lisa, and only Gunn’s quick improvisation gets them through. He manages to cut loose and kick some human ass during the subsequent rescue attempt — only to realize that the little girl he’s rescuing doesn’t need it. Gwen’s stealing L.I.S.A, a government biocontrol device that could render her temporarily non-shocky. Gunn lets her steal it but stops her from killing for it, for which she’s later grateful. Back at her apartment, Gunn puts the device on her bare back, and for the first time in her life, Gwen can be touched without pain. The virginal Gwen is apparently eager to find out just what she’s been missing — and Gunn is only too happy to show her. Meanwhile, Lorne begins the ceremony designed to restore his empathic abilities. Cordelia, watching from above, prepares to murder him — only to have the lights come on and Angel standing there. Nearby, Fred and Wes are armed. Lorne picks up his magical device, which turns out to be only a Magic 8-Ball, and asks it, "Has Cordy been a bad, bad girl?" Its reply: DEFINITELY.
This twist ending was not only great fun in its own right (and yet another cliffhanger!), but it also amended some of the episode’s earlier problems. At one point it seemed as though the emotional impact of Cordy’s pregnancy on the group, particularly Angel, was being seriously shortchanged. Now it appears clear that Angel’s suspicions began early on; we didn’t get a good look at his reaction because we weren’t meant to see that suspicion until the very end. Lorne’s realization that his empathic talents are no longer up to snuff also helps some with explaining why he didn’t sense Angelus in "Calvary," though they could and should have introduced this earlier. The episode’s most serious flaw turns out to be that it’s plotted a little slowly, and directed without any particular flair.
However, there’s so much more to love. In his first star turn in far too long, J. August Richards shows off the wit, sexiness and toughness he’s had all along — but hasn’t been allowed to portray. Gunn’s a lot more than the team’s muscle, but instead of feeling unappreciated, he concentrates on the good he can do. Though he is not over Fred — his initial hesitation with Gwen speaks volumes — he’s determined to strike out on his own. Cordelia continues her reign of snaky evil, twisting Connor up inside and trying to do the same to Angel. But Angel, at long last, has wised up. What did Angel know and when did he know it? Can’t wait to find out.
ANGEL airs Wednesdays at 8 PM/ C on the WB.
Score: 4 stars