This week’s television: “Angel”

This week’s “Angel” – amazingly powerful stuff. I got so wrapped up in the episode, carried away by the storyline as it related to the whole Angel/Buffy mythos, it was so scary and graphic. The writing was so good, the acting – good delivery of good lines… So, I’m blurting all this, while I still can (so, before you move on, spoiler alert! – although, as usual, I won’t give away everything) …

This week’s episode was a sort-of further update of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” continuing ideas from its series finale last spring. “Buffy” summary – Buffywas long burdened by her role as the Chosen One (Faith, another Slayer, also shared the burden, but came to be more tempted by the dark side, so Buffy felt really alone with what she stubbornly felt was her mission alone; it didn’t help that Buffy came back from the dead twice – no one else can share in that experience). Buffy, in the season before the last season, returned from the dead and promised to show the world to Dawn, her sister who’s literally “The Key” (as, revealed in the prior season, a mystical object in human form sharing the Slayer’s bloodline so that the Slayer can protect her). But, the promise was sidelined by the latest quest. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. Ah, but the series finale: but then Buffy unleashed the power of the Slayer to all Potential Slayers, to defeat the First Evil. Now, there are Chosen Ones; it’s Slayer (re: Girl) Power for all the Girls who have the Potential in them. The victim need not be victimized. The innocent can stand strong.

And, with Spike, Buffy’s other vampire-with-a-soul boyfriend, on “Angel,” I thought all the Buffy references in “Angel” hinted that Buffy’s story continued somewhere out there, as she was freed from carrying the burden alone; she’s with Dawn, traveling in Europe, finding more Slayers to pass on Slayer Power lessons, and finally keeping the promises she made to Dawn and her gang. More than ever, this week’s “Angel” episode was like a Buffy episode without Buffy. The guest-appearance of Andrew, the once-evil, always hapless geek of “Buffy” only enhanced the Buffiness of the episode. Andrew visits Los Angeles to help Team Angel in a serious situation (more below). Spike warns Andrew – “don’t tell Buffy I’m back; I’ll tell her when I’m good and ready.” Considering that she watched him die last season, I’m kind of wondering what Spike’s really thinking. All this Buffiness…

But, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is “Angel.” Its charactistic usual broodiness, darkness, and all-out graphic violence are still there. Team Angel, via their Evil Law Firm of Wolfram & Hart, become aware of Dana, a Psychotic Slayer – a teenaged girl so traumatized by her kidnapping/torture experience and loss of her murdered family that she has been at a mental hospital the past several years. When Buffy unleashed Slayer Power, it awakened the Dana’s Potential Power – but not in a good way. Thus, Dana goes psycho to hunt and kill anyone, particularly men, because it was a man who so tortured her when she was a child. She has the power to do more harm than good.

Spike doesn’t realize that Dana’s a Slayer at first; he fights her, and she goes more psycho, because in her mind, she’s sure Spike was the man who destroyed her; worse, she has the memories of the past Slayers who Spike killed back when he was evil. So, Dana brutalizes Spike horribly. Does he deserve the punishment, if he did indeed harmed Dana to begin with- making her the monster that she thus became? (she’s at least a feral Slayer, without the training and moral restraint – which is scary) .

Lowdown: Spike manages to talk through to Dana, before she dusts him or hacks other body parts. Dana, it seems, mixed the memories of the Slayers with her own actual memories ( she understandably knows what Spike is – but not exactly how he related to her). Angel arrives on time, revealing info that her actual torturer was fortunately taken down by the police. Spike is rushed to the Wolfram & Hart hospital. Angel tries to take Dana for treatment, but Andrew and his troupe of teen Slayers claim Dana – she is a Slayer for their custody, even if she has gone psycho.

Powerful moment: Angel and Wesley, Angel’s sidekick, protest at first. Irony alert, since Wesley would have had Andrew’s job of overseeing Slayers, had Wesley not messed things up with his overseeing of Faith and joined Team Angel. More irony: Andrew says to Angel and his man Wesley, “Thanks for helping us get Dana, but you guys are evil now; you work for Wolfram & Hart!” When Angel insists that he would call Buffy to veto Andrew, Andrew gives Angel the worst slap in the face: “Buffy knows – she authorized me to take Dana. We don’t trust you anymore.” (I’m paraphrasing; the whole presentation was far better than I’m putting it).

Andrew doesn’t have the same Angel baggage than, say, others of Team Buffy (Xander, for instance, has his trust issues with Angel), so the powerful kick at Angel isn’t nearly as strong as it could have been. And, despite the graphic violence and flashbacks, are we viewers supposed to be relieved that Spike, who was admittedly really evil back in the day, was not the evil person Dana thought he was in her own life? Is Angel finally admitting that he’s no longer on the side of Good, when his own beloved rejects him? (without Buffy being there, I thought it was real easy to imagine her discomfort with the idea of Angel with Wolfram & Hart and her fear that he returned to evil, no matter his justification of working to bring down evil from the inside; does anyone even know the sacrifice he made to do this?). And, can Dana ever be rescued, mentally and spiritually?

A vampire-to-vampire talk: Spike and Angel wonder if Dana could ever be reclaimed, since she has been so scarred by the dark side. Spike recognizes that Dana and her family were not among his victims, yet Spike pauses and concedes that his problem, pre-soul days, was that he never thought about what evil really meant. Angel highlights his own horrible past – as the evil vampire Angelus, he “reveled in evil in all its forms” – Angelus was worse than Spike, in Angel’s mind (and perhaps to most others too). Angel’s soul curses Angel to feel guilt for all the crimes he committed is his eternal sentence for those very crimes.

Spike, as other critics note, chose to have his soul back due to love (or at least something more than lust) for Buffy; he hasn’t been haunted by his victims like Angel has been – but maybe Spike will start feeling it (in the Buffy/Angel world, no one gets away with anything). By knowing what evil means, maybe Spike would now understand and truly appreciate what it means to be the Champion of Good. Will Spike learn that being on the side of good isn’t just about vying with Angel for the girl – that doing good is a good in and of itself? That fighting evil is a worthwhile goal? That there is such a thing as evil? What happened to those gray areas that Wesley was talking about the very week before? Angel has to bring his team up to speed about his concerns, but maybe it won’t happen too soon?

Next week is the big 100th Angel episode. Cool.

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