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Analyse de la saison 2
Cangel 'till the end
Nombre de messages : 7139
Age : 32
Localisation : In Jensen's arms
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Analyse de la saison 2 Jeu 15 Avr - 19:20|| |
Un essaie qui analyse la saison 2. Je l'ai trouvé ICI
- Citation :
September 2000 - May 2001
OVERVIEW OF THE SEASON
The Road Travelled
As series, both BtVS and ANGEL are about the titular hero’s journey though life (or unlife as the case may be). But there the similarity ends. No-one could suggest that Buffy was “normal”. But her journey is intended to be a metaphor for that of ordinary people as they explore the classic trials and tribulations of teenage and post-teenage life: high school, college, love, growing up, family etc. Angel’s journey is different. He is not embarking on his life and learning new things about himself and the world. Rather his is a journey to come to terms with the past and the way that the past affects the present. It is a past that has left him so damaged that he has to escape it, repair that damage and create a new life for himself. And this is what works so well about the main season 2 arc. There were many strong individual episodes in season 1 of ANGEL and if you compare the title character in “City of…” to Angel in “In the Dark” and later still Angel in “Sanctuary” you can see the differences. At the start of the season he was literally doing penance in his cell. At the close of “In the Dark” he recognizes his purpose as helping people and by the time we reach “Sanctuary” he is a man (or vampire) with a mission. But at its height what we get here are a series of staging posts in which we see change through a series of disconnected situations. This is still superior to most episodic television where consequences are rarely far reaching. But even here we miss is the sense of a journey – a series of connected events which lead our hero from one place to the next. And this is what the so-called "Darla arc" season 2 brings while at the same time giving us an opportunity to explore themes and characterization in more depth than ever before.
Of course the name notwithstanding, the episodes which comprised that arc were never about her – they were all about Angel. Darla was merely the means whereby Angel’s buried past resurfaced to haunt him and the progress he thought he had made was revealed as skin deep. And because of this he was brought to the edge of self-destruction. However, because he went through this experience Angel was forced to confront some unpalatable truths about himself. And by doing so successfully he was able to undergo a far more meaningful change than we had ever seen before. And this change led to the creation of what promises to be a far more solid base for his redemption. In other words, by giving us both an in-depth analysis of where Angel’s real problems and the solutions to those problems lay and a sense of how Angel changed in response to these problems, Season 2 exploited both of the principal advantages of the arc.
Angel and His Redemption
The first thing I like about Angel’s development as a character in Season 2 is that it was so clearly foreshadowed in the set up the writers left us at the end of season 1. This sort of respect for continuity always helps the credibility of any story. In “To Shanshu in LA”, the key theme that the writers explored was Angel’s desire to be human. And the important point here is that there is more to being human than taking the physical form. It means being part of the world. There are a few significant passages in the episode dealing with this very issue.
Wesley: “Angel's cut off. Death doesn't bother him because there is nothing in life that he wants. It's our desires that make us human.
Cordelia: "Angel's kinda human. He's got a soul."
Wesley: "He's got a soul. But he's not a part of the world. He can never be part of the world."
Cordelia: "Because he doesn't want stuff. That's ridiculous....."
Wesley: "What connects us to life is the simple truth that we're a part of it. We live, we grow, we change. But Angel..."
Cordelia: "...can't do any of those things. Well what are you saying, Wesley, that Angel has nothing to look forward to? That he is going to going to go on forever, the same, in the world but always cut off from it."
Angel’s problem was that, as a vampire, he could not change and he could not grow because he was not part of life. He needs nothing. He hopes for nothing. But the dynamic that was set up in “To Shanshu in LA” seemed therefore to point the way to a future in which he was part of the world as a reward for playing a pivotal role in a coming Apocalypse. All he had to do was:
“to survive the coming darkness, the apocalyptic battles, a few plagues, and some - uh, several, - not that many - fiends that will be unleashed."
And if he managed to do that he would attain not only redemption but his humanity. As he later said himself of this prophecy:
"I…I saw the light at the end of the tunnel that some day I might become human."
By defining Angel’s quest for redemption so clearly in terms of his desire to be human the writers were establishing why it was so important for Angel to be human. It meant more than being able to walk in the sunlight, to hear the beat of his own heart and to join human society. It meant the opportunity to consign his dark past to the history books and to wipe the slate clean and start his life anew. But at the same time they showed us the trap that Angel had fallen into. For him, 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. The season 2 arc would turn this on its head.
The Structure of the Season
What season 2 sought to show was that Angel's connection with humanity was the means of achieving his redemption, not it's reward. And in deceptively simple this statement we find the single self-contained theme for the whole season. It was a theme with many different facets. These included the difference between the demonic view of the world and that of the human; the relationship between the human and the demon within Angel and how Angel himself misunderstood that relationship; the way in which Angel’s actions were shaped by his perceptions of Darla, of himself and ultimately of the world. Finally we were able to see more clearly the nature of the writers’ concept of redemption itself. And here we find another of the real strengths of the season. Because none of these elements were free standing each could in its turn be examined not simply as an end in itself but rather as something with a particular part to play within the overall framework of the theme for the season. So, the writers were able to carry out an in-depth psychological examination of Angel not only because that was something interesting in its own right but to help us see why he did what he did. And in turn those actions were used to explore and explain the real nature of Angel’s mission so that it really did further a particular concept of what redemption meant. Everything was connected to everything else and more to the point the interconnecting individual elements formed an overall scheme which made sense. And in large measure it made sense because of the very clear structure adopted by the writers. Let us pause therefore to look at the way the season developed.
Episodes 1 and 2 (“Judgment” and AYNOHYEB): Here 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;
Episodes 3 to 9 (“First Impressions” to “The Trial”) These programs explored Angel’s past, especially his past with Darla. They illustrated the old vampire way of thinking about things, the simplicity of the life without conscience and without consequences and the attractions that lifestyle has. They also dealt (in “Guise will be Guise”) with the relationship between human soul and demon and implied that the two were not as separate as Angel might like to think. Then episodes like “Dear Boy” and especially ”Darla” looked at Darla’s role in re-opening up old issues that Angel thought had been settled. They expressly established his sense of identification with her and the way in which that sense of identification impelled him to help her redeem herself.
Episodes 10 to 15 (“Reunion” to “Reprise”) Here we had the Angel goes dark or dark grey or beige part of the season. With the loss of faith in his own redemption Angel also lost any hope of connecting to humanity. He ceased to care about anyone or anything. He fired his friends and took no interest in helping anyone else. Rather he was solely preoccupied with wreaking revenge on the cause of his loss – Wolfram and Hart.
Episodes 16 to 18 (“Epiphany” to “Dead End”) Here Angel reached the turning point. He hit rock bottom and realized not only that he had gone wrong but why. He worked out what he needed to do to put himself back on the right course, namely re-make the connection with humanity that he had severed and make his peace not so much with Wolfram and Hart (in the person of Lindsey) but with his own feelings of hostility and hatred towards them.
Episodes 19 to 22 (“Belonging” to “No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”) The coda. These programs looked again at the themes that had been explored in the course of the season and provided a conclusion to them. In particular Angel does now understand to what extent the beast is part of him and how difficult that will make his reconnection with the world. But above all it shows that he has the courage and strength to succeed.
This very clear and rational structure helped to create a logical flow of ideas, one leading naturally to the next to provide a consistent, internally coherent story about something important.
Angel Goes Dark
The crucial moment in season 2 came in the episode "The Trial" was when Darla was vamped in front of Angel's eyes. Up to that point, as he said himself, he had seen everything he was doing as helping him to achieve “the big win”. There he lost that hope and with it his belief in his own redemption. And in abandoning the hopes he had entertained, he also lost his connection with humanity. He cut himself off from his friends and from any feeling for other human beings. That is why he fired Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn and stopped worrying about what would happen to them. That is why he ceased to care about the would be suicide in “Reunion” or Anne in “Blood Money”. At the same time he turned in on himself and once again got in touch with the inner demon. At times the fight against evil could be complicated, messy and very frustrating. In “Blind Date” he admitted as much:
"It's still their world, Wesley. Structured for power, not truth. It's their system, and it's one that works. It works because there is no guilt, there is no torment, no consequences. It's pure. I remember what that was like. Sometimes I miss that clarity."
Guilt, torment and consequences come when you do the wrong thing. This is something that Angel (for all too obvious reasons) is familiar with to his great cost. Of course if you do not recognize constraints on your actions, if you truly believe that “anything goes”, then life does indeed become very simple. But it is for that very reason that this way of thinking is essentially demonic in the proper sense of that word. In “Darla” and “the Trial” we saw the Vampire lifestyle as being simple and pure in this sense. You can do what you want without regard to whether it is right or wrong simply because you do not have to face up to guilt or torment or consequences. We saw Angel’s attraction to this lifestyle. Of course as a vampire with a soul he had a conscience that meant that morally he could not harm innocents without facing guilt, torment or consequences. But from “the Trial” onwards Angel is able to embrace the purity and simplicity of life without these. He is quite convinced that his is righteous anger aimed at destroying evil and protecting the innocent. He believes in his own mind that he is on the right path. What Wolfram and Hart did to Darla not only fired him personally but, in his eyes, justified whatever he chose to do to them. To his way of thinking he was fighting evil, not apparently realizing that he had changed his idea of fighting evil so that it served his need for revenge. It is no wonder Cordelia described his new attitude as destroying people he doesn’t like. But worse than that it embraced any method that was useful for the purpose, even one which harmed innocents. Ironically therefore Angel, while believing he was helping to destroy Wolfram and Hart, was falling into their trap because he had embraced a way of thinking that was demonic.
This picture has many strengths. Angel is a decent, fundamentally moral individual who wants to do the right thing. But he was always a flawed individual. He was always an essentially very inward looking person, someone who saw and understood the world and those in it through the prism of his own preoccupations. And this was a particularly dangerous trait because, in spite of a century of brooding, he was someone with a very imperfect understanding of himself and his own internal dynamics. So, the developments of season 2 were grounded on established characterization: the influence of the demons within him and Angel's preoccupation with his own redemption in particular. But by shining a new and much harsher light on these old established character issues the writers allowed us to see them in a different way. Angel had his own fixed ideas about them and these went substantially unchallenged. We therefore accepted at face value his belief that Angel was in control of the demon within him. We learn that he is wrong at the same time as Angel does by watching the mistakes he makes. And, especially in episodes like “Dear Boy” and “Darla” we see much more clearly the truth about Angel’s past and how they moulded his present obsessions, showing more clearly than before how the events of that past shaped his present. The former gave life and substance to the latter as well as being a fascinating glimpse into Angel's history in their own right. And it was because of this that there was a real depth and texture to this characterization.
But that was not the only reason the storyline worked. It was the way in which this characterization quite naturally and believably formed the basis for the drama that unfolded. Someone with the problems I have described can indeed only exercise a very imperfect self-control. Unless you understand the forces that are driving you, you are going to be very vulnerable to those forces taking control of your life. It very rapidly became clear that the risk with Angel was not really the risk of the demon escaping; it’s Angel himself who cannot be a completely trustworthy member of society because of his flaws and because he cannot really take control of his life because of them. It is out of this that Vigilante Angel was born not as a creature that wanted to do evil but as a creature that wanted to punish wrongdoing without ever fully understanding the extent to which he was also a wrongdoer.
But perhaps the greatest strength of the arc was the way it gave us an entirely new perspective on the whole issue of redemption. Out of the forgoing we (and Angel eventually) realize that it is not an exercise in building up enough credit to offset what he owes. Rather it becomes a struggle to change himself. He is no longer making up for Angelus and what he did (something that Angel had no real responsibility for). Rather he is trying to deal with the damage caused to his own soul by the baggage he has accumulated and avoid becoming a danger to the world himself. Following on from this Angel’s quest for humanity becomes not the reward for redemption but the means to achieve it. In other words Angel can only redeem himself by overcoming the demon within him and those instincts that have been warped and twisted by the influence of what the demon did. And he can only do that by connecting with the world, by becoming more human. And this seems to me to be an inherently more satisfying and ambitious concept for the show than the rather mechanistic approach suggested by the ending of Season 1.
My principal criticism of the “Angel goes dark” part of the arc was that his “darkness” was underplayed. This period opened and closed on really powerful moments, both involving direct attacks on Wolfram and Hart. But for the most part, in terms of their treatment of the theme, the writers sold themselves short. In episodes like “Happy Anniversary” and “Thin Dead Line” he half-heartedly does good. And even in “Blood Money” the amorality was in a low key. The whole point of this part of the arc was that Angel’s determination to destroy Wolfram and Hart should be obsessive, cold-blooded and ruthless and quite frankly what we saw did not live up to those requirements. Nor was this the only problem.
First and foremost the writers did open up a major issue in the way they sought to explain the change in Angel’s mindset from fighting the good fight to fighting a war. Angel’s single minded determination to pursue his revenge upon Wolfram and Hart without regard to consequences is clearly a legacy of the vampire mindset which craves the certainties and simplicities of an “anything goes” attitude that is very different from the experience of humanity with its messy connections between individuals and the consequences they involve. And we are, I think, supposed to understand that Angel had fallen prey to the instincts of the vampire and abandoned his connection with humanity because he stopped helping people and instead sought to destroy the enemy no matter who got hurt in the process. And I am reinforced in that view by the obvious parallels between the Angelbeast of the “Pylea arc” and beige Angel. The former was, I think, clearly intended to symbolize the darkness that came over Angel after “the Trial”. But if that is the case then Angel himself would necessarily become a major problem for Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn. If we are to take seriously the idea that Angel’s actions were the result of “real darkness” then wouldn’t he be a danger to the world? Wasn’t that the lesson of the vigilante cops scenario in “Thin Dead Line”. There we had the guardians of the civil populace go from fighting the good fight to punishing evil out of a sense of anger and frustration at their failure to control evil within the established rules. And in their attempts to punish evil they became more and more indiscriminate until they ended up harming those they were sworn to protect. But there was no attempt to relate that scenario to Angel’s situation. And there was no attempt to relate the mission of the new Angel Investigations to the actions of its former boss.
However, having said all that, I think we must understand that Angel going dark was never intended to be an end in itself. This period was intended to be the nexus around which Angel's whole attitude would turn. He started out being preoccupied by his own redemption and looked at the world through that prism. With the destruction of his hopes for his redemption he was cut off from humanity. His attitude to his friends and to the would be suicide in “Reunion” was that he couldn’t care less about them. Similarly in “Blood Money” we see the following exchange between himself and Anne:
Angel: "The money was tainted."
Anne: "I don't even care about..."
Angel: "Yes, you do. That's the difference between us. You still care."
In “Happy Anniversary” when the Host challenged Angel it was essentially about leaving Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn in the lurch. From the other side of the coin the former members of Angel Investigations were preoccupied by the sense of personal abandonment:
Gunn: "What if Angel..."
Cordelia: "I thought we weren't going to say the 'A' word."
Gunn: "Yeah, let's not say the 'A' word. Lets just spend our lives sitting around waiting for him to call."
Wesley: "We're not waiting for him to call. The man fired us. We're on our own now. Separate unit. Fighting the good fight."
And the focus of this theme was in “Thin Dead Line” where the idea abandonment of your former friends and the consequences for those friends of that abandonment was a key theme. Witness the confrontation between Cordelia and Angel in the hospital:
Cordelia: "What are you doing here?"
Angel: "I heard about Wesley."
Cordelia: "Well, that's great. Too bad it takes a gunshot wound to make you give a crap. Wesley doesn't need you right now. *We* don't need you. You walked away. Do us a favor and just stay away."
The concentration from “Redefinition” to “Reprise” was not on the difference between the good fight on the one hand and on fighting a war on the other. It wasn’t even on Angel’s search for revenge. That was merely the cause of Angel’s cutting himself off from his friends and the rest of humanity. The concentration here was on the fact that he did cut himself off, with all the implications I have been discussing. The focus was that Angel was going “off message” not by killing and maiming but by turning his back on Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn (and by extension everyone else) and that he got back “on message” by reconnecting with them. And I can understand why this was the focus of the writers because it helped forward their central thesis about Angel's need to connect with humanity. And this was something that a straight moral objection to Angel becoming a vigilante could not do nearly so well. Nevertheless I do think that focusing on the latter would have had a much more powerful impact simply because it would have carried a much more vivid and real message about the effects of evil.
And this brings us to the second key turning point of the season: "Reprise". Even in the “Angel goes dark” period, twisted and buried though it may have been there was a core within Angel that still believed in something – a future not for himself but for the helpless. The turning point came for Angel when he lost even this belief. And that essentially meant going to the place that was the logical destination for someone with his mindset. As we saw in “Happy Anniversary” there was no future for Angel in the world. All he wanted was for the pain to stop. But not only did he fail in his effort to end the pain – the real purpose behind the abortive raid on Wolfram and Hart’s Senior Partners – he was shown a world where there was no fundamental difference between humanity and demons. Everyone on earth was simply out for themselves and couldn’t care less about the consequences to others. This was the destruction of the very thing that gave meaning to any conviction he still had that he was fighting against evil. And that happened because he could not recognize the lie in what he was being told because he had cut himself off from the very experience of humanity that would have told him the truth about the struggle between good and evil. The good fight was first and foremost about helping people fight their internal demons. Angel was intended to connect with humanity not because people were all good but because he could connect with the instinct for good within and help them overcome those demons. And if Angel had still believed in the good fight, if he had still believed in the possibility of his own redemption he would have known that.
It was at this point that, in the depths of his 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; that he could not take responsibility for releasing Angelus onto the world a third time. Moreover he also realized that his friends also meant something to him – Kate, Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn and that he couldn’t let them die. In this realization he was accepting that his connection to other people as well was important to him. More than that it was that connection with this wider 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. It was this feeling that was the antithesis of the picture that Holland painted for him in "Reprise". And here again I turn to Doyle’s words in “City of…”. I 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 actual evil a vampire named Angelus caused but by the century or more of retreat from humanity that was the legacy of those crimes.
So, the Angel who emerges in the aftermath of “Epiphany” is a very different character. In particular he no longer sees the world through the prism of his own narrow concerns. He is a more genuinely outward looking individual who understands the need (if perhaps not yet the practice) of connecting with humanity. Moreover because he understands the true duality of his nature far better than ever before he is a genuinely more responsible and trustworthy individual. This is intelligent, articulate and very satisfying characterization.
Not the least of the strengths of this approach is the feeling that the whole arc was designed to bring about this change in Angel. The writers might have used the “Angel goes dark” plot simply as a really cool idea which would be guaranteed to keep our interest and then hit the reset button so that he could get back with the other members of Angel Investigations and pretend nothing had happened. This would have undermined the whole meaning of the arc. Instead the real purpose seems to have been to bring about genuine and substantive character change and perhaps even change to the whole direction of the series. And this in a nutshell is the true importance of the so-called “Darla” arc: that it’s significance extends far beyond this season.
If I have any reservations at all about this development it is in the extent to which we will see a more relaxed and cheerful Angel in the future. Here I am a little schizophrenic. If Angel’s focus now shifts from his own personal redemption (with its preoccupations about guilt and reparation) to helping all of humanity (concentrating on their problems not his) then it makes a great deal of sense that Angel will stop being so inward looking. And in terms of character analysis the concept of Angel as more of a reborn Liam with hints of Angelus thrown in for good measure works very well. It emphasizes the continuity of the personality from Liam to Angelus to Angel. The changes between the three become more in the nature of variations on a theme explicable by the difference the human soul and (as Angel) the added burden of guilt makes. And at one level the sarcastic, relaxed and fun-loving aspect of Angel’s personality can indeed by a joy to watch. But this is essentially too dark a series and the issues it deals with too serious and important for the lead character to lighten up too much. There is a fine line to be trod here and only time will tell how successful the writers are at doing so.
C/A 4everIt's gonna be a long while 'till you work you way out, but I know you well enough to know you will. And I'll be with you until you do
~ CordyI'm gonna get you back. I need you back
Cangel 'till the end
Nombre de messages : 7139
Age : 32
Localisation : In Jensen's arms
Date d'inscription : 07/01/2009
|Sujet: Re: Analyse de la saison 2 Jeu 15 Avr - 19:21|| |
- Citation :
But of course making a commitment to forging a connection with humanity is the easy part and this is where I think the last part of the series works very well. In “Epiphany” and “Disharmony” Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn did not act like the father in the parable of the Prodigal son. All was not instantly forgiven and forgotten. Angel had to work very hard indeed to be accepted back and he had to make some real sacrifices – his position in the firm, his office and to some extent his pride. More than that in “Dead End” he was shown able to overcome his personal prejudices against Lindsey to actually help him. From “To Shanshu in LA” onwards there has been a feeling that Lindsey and Angel’s animosity fed off one another. The best example of this was in “Blood Money”. There we saw Angel’s swearing vengeance on Lilah and especially Lindsey paralleled by Lindsey’s own preoccupation with killing Angel. This preoccupation was born from his personal grievance over the loss of his hand. But in “Dead End” I think the writers were able to contrast Lindsey’s continued self-centered outlook with Angel’s expanded horizons. There, even though Lindsey got his hand back he was still unable to work with Angel because he continued to be preoccupied by his own personal agenda. Angel on the other hand had even more reason to hate Lindsey (and obviously still didn’t think much of him) but did agree to help him simply because he needed help. And of course the contrast between Angel’s new found attitude after “Epiphany” and Lindsey's largely unchanged one really highlighted how different Angel now is. So, in this episode we have the definitive demonstration of how the “Darla” arc has succeeded in bringing about real change and development in Angel as a character.
Given the reason why Angel went dark in the first place and the task he set himself during his “beige” period this is a very powerful statement of the nature of the change that has overcome him. His own redemption is no longer uppermost in his mind; instead his focus will be on helping others – any others. The only consideration will be that they need help. But of course in this context the real question is whether Angel is willing to help someone he actively doesn’t like and probably considers doesn’t deserve it. And it is really only when we see him doing so in “Dead End” that we can be convinced about just how serious he is in his new-found determination.
One aspect this that invited a lot of discussion was the way in which the writers handled the aftermath of the split when Angel sought to re-forge his links with the members of the Fang gang. The writers presentation of this concentrated on the need for Angel to make up for what he had done wrong. This does jar because, while Angel must bear primary responsibility for the break up with the other members of Angel Investigations, blame has to be shared round. Quite frankly both Cordelia and Wesley failed as friends when Angel was struggling to come to terms with Darla’s return. Here Angel’s complaint in “Happy Anniversary” is justified:
“You want to know what my problem is? I'm screwed. That's my problem. I can't win. I'm trying to atone for a hundred years of unthinkable evil. News flash! I never can! Never going to be enough. Now I got Wolfram and Hart dogging me, it's too much! Two hundred highly intelligent law-school graduates working fulltime driving me crazy. Why the hell is everyone so surprised that it's working? But no, it's 'Angel, why you're so cranky?' 'Angel, you should lighten up. You should smile. You should wear a nice plaid.'"
Wesley in particular failed to appreciate just how much Darla meant to Angel or why and both he and Cordelia made only feeble efforts to try to communicate with him about it. Equally after Angel fired them they decided that he had to be the one to make the first move in spite of the fact that he was obviously the one who was behaving abnormally and needed help. Indeed when he did make the first move (at the hospital in “Thin Dead Line”) he was coldly rebuffed.
Again, however, I would stress that the writers were only concerned to pursue their central thesis which was that Angel had to learn to reconnect with his former friends at least in part as a symbol of his resolve to make the wider connection with humanity. We are, therefore, dealing with the consequences of Angel failures, not those of the other members of the team. In the end, the individual destinies of Wesley or any of the others are secondary to the journey of the eponymous hero of the piece. It is because it is still all about Angel that the most important failures are his and they are dealt with as such by the writers.
And in this context I have to record my appreciation of the fact that, far from taking the “with one bound he was free” line, the writers seemed intent on emphasizing the difficulty of the task that Angel had set himself. He was still a vampire both physically and to an extent emotionally and for someone like him making the connection to humanity is very difficult. And I think that the post-Epiphany episodes faithfully reflect this.
As I observed in my review of “Belonging”, Fantasy writers have the luxury of designing their own societies with their own structures or values. The purpose of doing so is not what we learn about the fictional society but what a comparison between that society and our own world tells us about the latter or about some phenomenon that is common to both but has different meanings and produces different effects in each. And the strength of the Pylea arc was that in the Host’s dimension we had a society that was very different from our own. And perhaps the best description of it comes from the mouth of the Host himself:
"Talk about screwed up values. A world of only good and evil, black and white, no gray. No music, no art, just champions roaming the countryside, fighting for justice. Boring. You got a problem, solve it with a sword. No one ever admits to having actual feelings and emotions, let alone talks about them. Can you imagine living in place like that?"
Here we saw a very deliberate and successful attempt to contrast the black and white world of Pylea with the experiences of Angel on Earth. In contrast to Pylea, the problems that Angel faces here cannot be solved by the sword. Things are gray. Instead of Lindsey being an evilbeastlawyer he is a selfish and confused human being. The Pylea arc worked because it put Angel in a society where he seems at first to be at home playing the part of a champion ready to kill evil things and then showed us that this approach leads him to become an engine of destruction. It was in this context that finally we see Angel realizing that there was another way. This was a true coda because in four episodes we see the entire theme of the season and the development of Angel as a character summed up in a neat and easily digestible package.
But by taking this line the writers were also being realistic in avoiding the easy or cheap solution to all Angel’s problems. But in the way that Angel was shown as overcoming the beast rather than simply solving all his problems by killing the Groosalugg and his joy at coming back to an Earth in which he had been so deeply uncomfortable they also showed his determination to do whatever it takes to succeed in the task set for him. By finishing the Darla arc in this way the writers sustained what is in effect a single theme from beginning to end: who is Angel what is his mission, how does the person he is affect the way he perceives that mission and how might a change in the way he perceives that mission bring about a change in him. In this arc the writers are not covering new ground. Rather they are looking back at what ground has already been covered this season and giving us a fresh look at it through new eyes. By doing so they first of all reinforce just how important the developments in this season have been. Otherwise the exercise would have been something of a waste of time. Secondly they help tie things together and thus help us understand what we have seen as a coherent whole as opposed to in week by week developments. But finally by giving us the new angle, the theme is made fresh and new, thus sustaining interest
Plotting the Season
Although I have been discussing the season long arc in terms of the story of a single journey, it must not be forgotten that it the writers had to tell that story within the constraints of episodic television. In the main their theme had to be developed through the medium of single hour-long plots. These may be conveniently be divided into two types of episode. The first comprised those episodes which drove the main Darla arc. As the storylines of these episodes necessarily concentrated on the interaction between Wolfram and Hart, Darla and Angel the writers were circumscribed in the types of plot they could have. So here there were really no outside villains to be fought or particular individuals to be helped. The second type comprised stand-alone episodes like “Guise will be Guise” and “Untouched” that developed character or explored issues that were relevant to the arc rather than being arc-centric episodes as such. Here there was much more freedom for the writers in telling a story. It is true that within the constraints imposed by the need to develop the arc there were some good strong plots among the first type of episode. I think that “Reunion” and “Reprise” work very well as self-contained stories in their own right. But more often the story in each episode was completely subordinated to the need to further the arc. “Darla”, “the Trial” and “Redefinition” being prime examples of this. All of them worked as part of the development of the arc but as stories on their own they were a little thin. And because of this I think that the plotting of these episodes has to be viewed as a whole rather than on an episode by episode basis. After all 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 it is by how they worked in this context that we must judge the arc-centric episodes.
And it is in this context that I would like to say that it is here that we see the real strength of Wolfram and Hart as a major villain. It is a corporation, not an individual. It works within the power structures of human society. As such it cannot be fought using traditional methods. It can’t even be killed, as Angel found out both after “Reunion”. It poses a threat that is of an entirely new order. But even an entity (or perhaps especially an entity) like Wolfram and Hart needs a face. And the nature of the threat posed by the law firm can be seen pretty clearly in the form of Holland: sophisticated, unflappable, cold and ruthless. As such he represents Wolfram and Hart’s system of values and its ability to plan towards long term goals intended to safeguard and advance those values. As such he is the epitome of a spider spinning his web to trap the unwary. But corporations have other characteristics as well. Because they consist of individuals, quite distinct from the corporate structure, not everyone will see the whole picture. This means great scope for the writers to play games of bluff and double bluff. What one person knows is not necessarily known by others and in this scenario there is great scope for the withholding or distorting of information, both to fool the other players and the viewers. The classic example of this was the way in which Holland first manipulated Darla into believing she was the one in control; that she had the key to influencing Angel. Up until “Darla” she was the one who took center stage in the scheme and Holland, Lindsey and Lilah all seemed to revolve around her. And the emphasis on the past life she shared with Angel seemed to confirm that her power over him was the key to the arc.
Then the focus shifts and we began to seen things from Lindsey’s point of view.This makes it more obvious that it is Holland who is pulling the strings. But even when we did find out that Darla was being manipulated, like Lindsey, we remained in the dark about the true nature of Holland’s plan. The result was that the true nature of that plan and the effect it was intended to have (and did indeed have) on Angel comes as an even greater surprise.
But the benefits of having a corporation with Holland, Lindsey and Lilah are more wide ranging than that. In the interplay between these very disparate characters we see the struggle between personal agendas and self-interest on the one hand and passionless, long term planning on the other. And here Lindsey is the key figure. He feels an attraction to Darla that Holland first exploits to further his plan but which subsequently leads him into conflict with his employers. On the other side of the coin his personal antipathy to Angel, while it adds sharpness to his participation in the plan, later threatens to interfere with Wolfram and Hart’s meticulous preparations. Or take Lilah. For much on season 2 she was a figure in the background. She had her own scheme in “Untouched” which was clearly intended to show her in competition with Lindsey for Holland’s attentions. Otherwise we see her mainly sniping at Lindsey, always concerned to get one-up on her rival. And of course in the aftermath of the massacre in “Reunion” this rivalry was put into direct focus as they were thrown into a life or death struggle to prove who was the more capable. This reminds us of the tensions you always find within a corporation both as to the best way to further its interests and as between what is good for the corporation and what is good for individuals within it. The good of the corporation requires discipline with different people working together to achieve its ends. But it also requires putting the right people in the right place and this means competition. And always the management within a corporation must deal with the fact that it comprises individuals whose principal loyalty is always to themselves. These are all strengths which the writers exploited very effectively in the course of the year. The way that messy and ultimately uncontrollable human emotion such as fear, hatred or ambition is both exploited by and hampers emotionless planning not only helps to create dramatic tension. It adds to the human interest. No-one is interested in emotionless calculation alone. But when we see the interplay between it and real human feelings, that is what makes things interesting. The roles Holland, Lindsey and Lilah play are part of what makes Wolfram and Hart a fully three dimensional villain and not just a general almost symbolic representation of evil.
And one of the advantages of Wolfram and Hart’s corporate nature was successfully exploited to keep us guessing about the real nature of the threat Darla posed to Angel. At the beginning it seemed obvious that she had been returned in her vampire form with the aim of using her personal connection with Angel to free Angelus. But that was an elaborate misdirection and while the real nature of the trap was waiting to be revealed there were real issues of identity to be explored in episodes like “Darla” and “Dear Boy”. Indeed, here the only real criticism that I have is that in “Dear Boy” the “let’s frame Angel for murder” plot felt shoehorned and ultimately led nowhere.
But it is only after “Darla” – with its vague hints that the Wolfram and Hart plan is working – that we reach the dramatic climax of the season. And in this context three things stand out. First the plan itself. There was nothing about it that was obvious. I certainly didn’t see what was coming until the end of “Reunion”. But in retrospect it all makes sense. The exploration of the issues of identity forged Angel’s sense of identification with Darla and that completed the set up in which the denial of her redemption saw him lose hope in his own. It is in short a triumph of care and planning. The final element is the resolution of all the conflict between Angel and Darla that has characterized the season to date. The way this is accomplished – through the mediaeval trials – isn’t perhaps my favorite plot device but it is perfectly serviceable in that it gives us the essential crucible for the purpose. Angel’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Darla – his demonstration of what was best in humanity – and the fact that this was not sufficient to save her created a moment of quiet acceptance in which there really was a meeting of minds and souls. Only for this moment of calm to be ripped apart and Angel’s worst nightmare come to pass before his eyes. And from that moment the story builds strongly towards the first of the two real climaxes of the season. “Reunion” featured a continually changing dynamic between the three principal protagonists: the vampire girls, the Wolfram and Hart lawyers, who seemed for so long to be in control, and Angel. We were never entirely sure until the very end how this dynamic was going to resolve itself. But then there was a twist which I for one never expected to see but which set the tone for the rest of the series. In the classic tradition the highest form of tragedy is where a good man willingly chooses the wrong path. Essentially this is what we have here. Before Angel could justly be described as the victim of circumstances beyond his control. But here his fate and those of the Wolfram and Hart lawyers (to a degree at least) were under his control and he chose to damn them. And now he must clearly take the responsibility for his actions. This is powerful and gripping drama. A threat that the hero of a series might destroy himself is among the most compelling for any dramatic work. It can after all hardly be more serious. It would represent a more fundamental failure than any death in the line of duty.
Unfortunately from this point onwards the drama takes a back seat – at least until “Reprise”. I have already discussed the way in which the developments of the Angel goes beige period work from a thematic point of view. In “Redefinition”, the follow up to “Reunion”, I think that in general too little happened in terms of plot to make a really compelling episode. There were three separate threads each of which could have had a stronger narrative line in it. Darla and Drusilla’s attempts to form an army had too little focus to give Angel commando act any punch at all. The "Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn find their own mission" plot was played mainly for laughs (an awful misjudgment) and the Lindsey and Lilah take on “Survivor” was largely set-up It. Of course it was principally a transitional episode but the problem is that what followed lacked dramatic power as well. In “Blood Money” we were left with the sense of anti-climax. This was produced not so much by the failure to do any damage to Wolfram and Hart but the revelation that Angel never planned to do much damage to them. This almost inevitably left us asking well then what was this all about? And almost unbelievably this was the last attempt to involve Angel striking back at Wolfram and Hart before “Reprise”. I can’t help feeling that this part of the season would have been so much more satisfactory if we had one more episode in which Angel did some real damage to the lawyers. And this is where, from a dramatic point of view, the lack of interest that the writers showed in differentiating between the good fight and fighting a war really told against them. Implicit in the distinction is a willingness on Angel’s part to do things he might formerly have regarded as unconscionable – the end justifies the means. Something like that would have given real credibility to the very idea that Angel was going at least dark gray. As it was the Host’s “beige aura” remark in “Happy Anniversary” almost made it look as of they were not serious about this key stage of the season. Indeed given the extent to which Angel really did plumb the depths in “Reprise” it is difficult to connect his behavior in “Thin Dead Line” where he genuinely seems to be regretting his treatment of his former employees with his actions in relation to Wesley and Cordelia in “Reprise”.
But if this constituted something of a misstep in dramatic terms then “Reprise” represented a wonderful recovery. It starts of with a sense of impeding crisis and from that point on everything just builds and builds. One question leads on to the next and each answer takes us somewhere darker. So we learn of the coming of the senior partner and Angel’s suicide mission. We could see that Angel was reaching a crisis point but the precise nature of the real crisis he was to face and its implications for him remained well hidden. But not unfairly so because they were unknown to Angel himself at that stage and telling a developing story from the point of view of the “hero” and keeping hidden what was unknown to him is perfectly justified. And finally we had the key twist that the writers pulled off. Effectively they pulled the rug from underneath Angel’s feet. And alongside this story we had the different stories of Kate’s dismissal and Cordelia and Wesley’s troubles. At first each seemed to stand on its own; an individual tragedy without relevance to any other. But the way they were brought together in the montage near the end helped illustrate the nature of evil in the world and led to a finale of stunning power in which Angel did something monumentally stupid: he slept with Darla.
This was about as dark a moment as you could get. My own preferred view remains that it was the metaphysical equivalent of attempted suicide but the precise nature of Angel’s purpose hardly matters. It was, as he says later, a moment of perfect despair. That was the power of the moment to command attention, just as the vamping of Darla at the end of “The Trial” commanded our attention. Yet in a moment of very neat symmetry it too heralded a very sharp change. In “The Trial” the quiet acceptance of Darla’s fate was a prelude to the horror of what followed it and the contrast emphasized that horror. Equally the portentous events at the end of “Reprise” heralded the moment when Angel came to his senses and from that time the heavy drama simply dropped away from the series. And the contrast here emphasized the sense of relief very effectively. The story of Angel’s reconciliation with Cordelia and the others was really quite light. A fair amount of humor was derived from Angel’s awkwardness both in “Epiphany” and in “Disharmony” and this was I think important. By bringing out the humor in Angel’s situation, he came across as more human and therefore ultimately more sympathetic individual. We actually felt sorry for his difficulties and wanted him to succeed in remaking a connection with his former friends. So, from all points of view this change in tone really worked.
Something which also worked from a dramatic point of view was the effective closure in “Dead End” of the “Darla arc” (which symbolically took place without Darla being anywhere in sight). I say that it closed the Darla arc because it saw the end of Wolfram and Hart’s attempts to wean Angel over to the Dark side, the departure from the firm of Lindsey – a key player in that attempt – and the disappearance of Angel’s erstwhile lover. And given the thematic strengths of the episode this might have been a convenient – of somewhat anti-climactic – way to finish the series. But it wasn’t. And while the Pylea arc which followed had its points thematically, in terms of drama for me it fell flat.
The first problem was that the Pylea arc was one episode too long. The prime culprit was “Belonging”. For the most part it is set-up. We learn nothing about any of the characters that we did not already know. Nor is there really any character development at all. We are simply reminded of the existence of our characters concerns and problems without any change or movement in them at all. There is therefore inevitably a feeling that the writers are simply repeating themselves and that can become a little tedious. To an extent the tedium is relieved by the fact that in the case of Angel and Cordelia the old issues are given a fresh treatment. Serious points are being made but in a lively, fun way. Aside from that the plot was straightforward, predictable and very thin. I cannot help bust suspect that the writers knew they didn’t have enough material here for four episodes but spun it out.
The one good thing about “Belonging” was the end – Cordelia’s disappearance was genuinely surprising. But that simply launched us on the principal storyline of the arc. To be honest this wasn’t especially strong. Cordelia gets into trouble in the demon dimension; Angel and the others find a way through to try to rescue her but themselves land in trouble. There was little new or surprising either in the general set up or in the specific developments of the plot. As I said in my review of the episode change the names and the place and we have seen it all dozens of times before. But it was well enough constructed and did contain a nice mixture of humor, suspense and at times genuine horror. Cordelia’s elevation to princess and her reaction to it were wonderful to behold. The sight of Angel revelling in his ability to walk in sunlight and see himself in the mirror, the way he basked in the glory of being a hero and the little touches of vanity were both oddly touching and very amusing. The Pyleans we got to see – especially Lorne’s mother and the inimitable (at least I hope he is inimitable) Numfar – were highly entertaining. All of these scenes provided a very nice counterpoint to the emergence of the Angelbeast and his dismemberment of a very human looking guard and the seriousness with which Wesley planned the attack on the Castle.
The basic storyline of the arc can be broken down into three basic lines of action – Angel and his struggle with himself; Wesley and Gunn and Wesley’s assumption of the leadership of the outlaws and Cordelia in her travails inside the palace. Each are self-contained and proceed independently of one another. Yet at the same time they all contribute towards a single overall goal – the overthrow of the Covenant of Trombli. But this, for me, is actually part of the problem.
The whole focus of the season long arc was Angel and his inner struggles. But in dramatic terms this was subordinated in the Pylea arc to the overthrow of Silas and his ilk. It became one element – albeit an important one – in that purpose. It doesn’t feel like the centrepiece of the arc, especially in "No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”. The resolution of the conflict within Angel does not therefore have the dramatic impact that it should have. And for me the solution of Pylea’s problems simply had no resonance. The principal manifestation of evil in Pylean society was slavery but apart from a comparatively brief period in “Over the Rainbow” it was marginalized. It was there in the background but because the concentration was on helping save Cordelia (who didn’t stay a slave but became a princess) the degradation and misery involved were rarely apparent. Indeed in some ways the idea of Cordelia’s slavery and the way she was sold was treated for laughs. Little wonder that the overthrow of the Council of Trombli produced a sort of “so what” feeling.
And that is disappointing. It is disappointing because the resolution of the Darla arc beginning with “Redefinition” was itself so light on drama. So a strong follow up would have been welcome. It was disappointing above all because the whole point of a season long arc was that it should all lead up to a powerful resolution, not just in terms of theme but in terms of drama as well. Instead the season ended if not exactly with a whimper then hardly with that much of a bang.
As before, I have not found it easy to grade an entire season. Certainly the raw ratings suggest that ANGEL’s second season was better than it’s first. Of the 22 episodes, 14 were rated as either A or B (excellent or very good). A further 4 were rated as good (B-) and none was poor (compared with three in season 1). But this sort of comparison cannot help but be misleading. As we have seen season 2 abandoned the episodic focus of season 1 in favor of a much more ambitious and meaningful vision – a vision that was both an in-depth psychological study and a moral. It simultaneously articulated a new view of the meaning of redemption and showed why Angel was initially on the wrong path to it. And while the second half of season 1 did concentrate on strong and important themes such as the choice between good and evil and the need to take responsibility for our decisions, thematically it never managed the same degree of coherent and meaningful thought that season 2 at times did. And in developing these themes, the first half of season 2 sustained very high levels of tension and drama, punctuated by jaw dropping moments such as Drusilla’s return to vamp Darla and Angel’s revenge in the wine cellar. In particular we got excellent value out of the evil law firm as chief villain. Its combination of long term and emotionless planning were juxtaposed by the individual weaknesses of some of its representatives with their own petty squabbles and personal agendas. Unfortunately things did go a little awry after the mid point of the season. The most serious criticism is that the whole Angel goes dark period was lacking the sort of edge that I had expected it would have. The very strength of the build up to this period meant that what we got in terms of Angel’s pursuit of Wolfram and Hart was mostly anti-climactic. But there were also problem with the development of the arc thematically. The writers’ central idea was to emphasize Angel’s need to connect with humanity as a way of achieving redemption. Hence the focus on the way that Angel let down his friends by his post-Reunion treatment of them and the efforts he had to make in the aftermath of "Epiphany" to reconnect with them. But, for the reasons I have already given, I did not find the thematic treatment of either entirely satisfactory. I did not, however, object to the idea of ending the season with a coda which in many ways seems to me to be entirely in keeping with the sustained concentration on the central themes of the Darla arc that characterized the whole season. Finally, however, I should add that one of the disappointments of the season lay in the fact that the characterization was too uneven to be wholly satisfactory. The in-depth treatment that Angel got was the highlight of the season. And the picture we got of Wesley was sympathetic, interesting and believable. But both Cordelia and especially Gunn were badly served. Thus while the season touched the heights, its deficiencies were too serious to allow it to be given an A.
RANKING THE SEASON 2 EPISODES
For the full reviews of the Season 2 episodes just click on the links below:
Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? A+
The Trial A
Dear Boy A
Through The Looking Glass B+
First Impressions B
Guise Will Be Guise B
Happy Anniversary B
Dead End B
No Place Like Plrtz Glrb B
Shroud of Rahmon B-
Blood Money B-
Over The Rainbow C+
Thin Dead Line C
C/A 4everIt's gonna be a long while 'till you work you way out, but I know you well enough to know you will. And I'll be with you until you do
~ CordyI'm gonna get you back. I need you back
Analyse de la saison 2