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AngelWe Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful
Tuesday 7 October 2003
Angel Episode 5.1 Conviction AirDate : 1st Oct 03
In my longstanding tradition of borrowing song and movie titles as names for these episode recaps, I’ve occasionally had to scratch my head for a couple of days before something appropriate comes to mind. In the case of Angel 5.1, ’Conviction’, I had my title by the mid-point of the first viewing. Thanks go to Morrissey for originally releasing it as a musical confession that’s never strayed too far from my memory. It’s funny because it’s true !
In this case, our "friends" are Angel and his team. We’ve watched Angel investigations grow from its humble beginnings in the old office when it was just Angel, Cordy & Doyle, and Angel lived down in the dank basement apartment. We saw the team grow and change as they moved into the Hyperion and relationships were formed, altered, shattered, and repaired.
Now as we enter the fifth season, it’s a whole new ballgame. Aside from a number of the same characters remaining on the scene, there isn’t a lot about this show that hasn’t changed - a truth evidenced by the opening sequence. It was a tribute to the early days of Angel to show him helping the helpless in an alley, dispatching said damsel’s attacker, and fading off into the shadows. But no - the days of fading are over ! Now our guy has a Special-Ops team, staff photographers, and legal counsel who will appear out of nowhere to make sure that all required waivers are signed, sealed and delivered (including a little clause about the lass’ eternal soul).
"Okay", I thought. "That was unexpected and kind of cool. I’m definitely feeling Angel’s frustration and confusion. What else have you got, Whedon ?"
"Well", said Joss as he cracked his knuckles from his seat in my favourite recliner and hogged the pretzels, "aside from an entire new episode that I wrote and directed myself, how about a zany new opening title sequence ?"
And there it was (okay, so Joss wasn’t really watching the episode with me). New clips for the opening credits, which included multiple shots of none other than William The Buddy himself. WOW ! Why didn’t anyone tell me Spike was going to be on Angel this season ? ! ? Talk about a closely guarded secret. And here I thought he was dead forever, sacrificing himself to save Buffy and the rest of the world.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the (arguably) most important moment of the episode arrived, we had a fair bit of exposition to spell out for the uninitiated. If you’ve been reading my columns for a while, you’ll remember that one of the things I love about Buffy and Angel is how they’re shows directed specifically to the diehards. If you haven’t been following the series up to the present events, you’re going to be in the dark and wondering why it’s so funny when Wesley trips over something or why it’s sad when Fred and Gunn stand close to each other for a second and then walk away looking uncomfortable. Smets once told me that he particularly loves the scene early in Buffy’s third season when Angel has come back from hell and Buffy tells him that she’s now seeing someone else. Wordlessly, he reaches up for a second and touches the collar of her leather jacket. If you’re new to the show at this point, it’s meaningless. But if you’ve seen season two, you know that she’s wearing HIS jacket, and the slight touch of the collar speaks volumes about their past together and how much has changed.
That’s what I’m talking about. They don’t usually feel the need to waste time explaining what went on before, because Joss realizes that pretty much everyone who’s watching the show has already seen all the previous episodes. Maybe it’s because Angel was so close to cancellation after last season, but I get the distinct impression that some of the big changes are based on the network instructing Joss to make the show more accessible to the casual viewer, in the hope of boosting the ratings. Please understand that I haven’t heard anywhere that such a directive actually came down the pipe, but I DO know that this season they’ll be returning to a format of largely self-contained episodes - what we’ve come to describe as Monster-of-the-Week. So we have a new location, a drastically altered premise, shorter story arcs, and a sizeable helping of dialogue with the singular purpose of getting everyone who might be new to the show up to speed.
Unfortunately I was left feeling a bit disappointed with the whole thing, and that’s unfortunately the word I’ll have to offer up as my most succinct summation of ’Conviction’. Disappointed.
I’m going to keep an open mind, and every season has its weaker episodes, but this one struck me as the sort that falls somewhere mid-season after a lot of major stuff has gone down. Episodes like this serve as a pause to catch our breath before all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, it’s harder to swallow when it’s the first episode of the season - one that’s supposed to set the tone for what’s to come.
At the end of season 4, I was excited about the limitless possibilities now that Angel’s crew has control of Wolfram & Hart’s awe-inspiring resources. I’m still excited because, HELLO - new season, but after this episode I’m also a little worried that it’s going to get ridiculous. Now they can do anything ! If they need something — ANYTHING, they’ll buy it. If Angel can’t get across town fast enough in one of his many classic sports cars with the necro-treated glass, he can take a helicopter. Just wait until the helicopter won’t suffice, because you just KNOW that W&H has the capabilities to load our heroes into a mystic teleporter. Wesley now has access to the greatest occult library anyone’s ever seen, and Fred has a crack team of super-scientists with limitless equipment and resources. At least Gunn’s still Gunn - the same old man of action who doesn’t need anything but his two fists and the occasional crossbow to get the job done.
Oh, scratch that. It appears that wasn’t enough, so now Gunn is also a super-genius. Joss, promise me Angel won’t come back into possession of the Gem of Amara anytime soon, this time deciding to use it and ditch all his undead limitations. I like this show better when things are difficult for the characters, because it makes for more interesting stories.
But morally speaking, things ARE still difficult, as we heard repeated every five minutes throughout the episode. Now that the Fang Gang is in league with the devil, the crux of the season will apparently be the struggle to do good and make a difference while using the resources of a very evil multi-dimensional law firm. Since I haven’t said a single complimentary thing throughout this entire review, let me say that this premise is a well-crafted next step from the Jasmine storyline. When Lilah showed up at the end of season 4, she explained to our heroes that they blew it with their narrow-minded view of right and wrong. Jasmine would have ended war and conflict and brought peace and goodwill to the entire world - something that CHAMPIONS are supposed to be striving for as they battle the bad guys. All she wanted in return was to be able to devour a few people a day. That sounds bad for those individuals, but in the overall scheme of things, how many lives would be spared under Jasmine’s influence ? It’s about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few (go read ’A Tale of Two Cities’, or at least watch Star Trek II).
So now that Angel and his crew have moved on up to the east side, they’re still trying to wrap their heads around this issue. Is it okay to tolerate some evil acts if it means you’re in a position to help a lot more people that you’d be otherwise unable to help ?
From their perspective, with the money, technology, staff and information at their disposal, it should be a no-brainer. Helping the helpless will be much easier from now on.
But from the viewer’s perspective, or at least from MINE, I’m worried that things just aren’t going to be as interesting as they used to be.
Possibly spicing up the soup, though, is the addition of the new cast members. Each of them brings something different to the show, and despite what a Negative Nancy you may think I’m being, I’m wide open to the possibilities. First up, we have Eve. Young, cute, reeks of sweet temptation (I liked the bit with the apple), and while she’s a little too precious to ever fill Lilah’s ass-whuppin’-power-bitch shoes, I’m eager to see how they develop her character. Is she human ? Is she datable ? Will she actually end up a part of the drama, or will she remain permanently confined to the role of satanic game show host ? "Okay, Angel - you can accept these stock options and an extra two weeks vacation, or you can RISK IT ALL in our Chamber of Darkness ! !"
Harmony is now here to provide comic relief, and who-knows-what else. I guess she’s going to be there for the self-absorbed, snob-queen comedy quotient that Cordy provided in the early days, but let’s face it - Cordy hasn’t been particularly FUNNY in a few years, so it’s almost as if Harmony is blazing fresh trails. I don’t have a strong opinion either way on Mercedes McNab joining the cast. Harm’s always been good for a laugh, and with all this hand wringing and sighing going on, some bubble-headed hijinx might be just the ticket. I did sense the possibility of Harmony and Lorne becoming an entertaining couple of pals once Lorne gets over his shock and dismay that she’s on the team. Unfortunately, the fact that we’ll be seeing her in pink office wear and natural light, subsisting on pig & otter blood cocktails is just one more indication that there isn’t a whole lot of vampirism left in the show. Remember when it was difficult to be a vampire in the modern world ?
Yup. Spike’s much-hyped appearance came in the episode’s conclusion, meaning that the fly is now securely in the ointment. I have NO idea what kind of a fit he’ll be on this show, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t positively rabid to find out. The only thing I particularly care about at the moment is how he came to be there, what kind of state he’s in, and what he plans to do next.
So there you have it. I found ’Conviction’ to be a largely unsatisfying episode, I’m uncertain about the direction the show seems to be headed, but as always, I’m going to trust in Joss and his fine, fine people to blow my mind and make me eat my words in the very near future. Anyone know when the first Drew Goddard episode is airing ?
Take care, everybody.