I’ve complained in the past about Angel’s fake-out openings, where a seemingly romantic (or violent) moment turns out to be comic, or a shocking twist turns out to be a dream. The set-ups are usually so obvious that I’m left drumming my fingers, waiting for the big reversal. But I have to say: the dream-sequence opening of “Loyalty” threw me. A dozing Wesley shoos away Fred and Gunn when they try to take a look at the papers on which he’s translated the prophecy that Angel will kill Connor. Angel walks in, holding the baby. Wes asks about Cordelia, and Angel answers by saying, “Wanna see Connor do something cool?” Then he takes a bite out of his son.
The scene is surprising because it’s not played like a dream sequence. It’s very short, with little in the way of creeping surrealism or symbolism to signal that what we’re seeing is “off.” Only after looking back over a transcript of the episode on-line did I notice the significance of a couple of Angel’s lines prior to him gnawing on Connor. In one, Angel responds to Gunn asking if Wesley has found any answers by saying, “He already knows the answer, he’s just looking for the question,” which seems to be an acknowledgment that “The Father Will Kill The Son” says nothing about when, how or, most importantly, why Angel will turn on Connor. And before that, after Wesley says that he lost track of time and had meant to go home, Angel says, “Road to hell, right?”
Which defines the crux of Wesley’s problem throughout “Loyalty.” He spends much of the episode shadowing Angel, watching his colleague for signs that he’s about to devour his son. Instead, he sees Angel sharing parenting tips with the mothers in a pediatrician’s waiting room, and Angel buying tiny hockey sticks and a little jersey so that he can get Connor into a sport that a vampire could actually go watch, and Angel saying of his son that he “can’t wait to watch him grow up… can’t wait to see who he’s going to be.” Angel’s intentions seem good. And so do Wesley’s. But, y’know… road to hell, right?
Meanwhile, as Wes is keeping a sharp eye on Angel, he’s missing what’s going on just outside his field of vision. Wolfram & Hart sends an operative to the pediatrician to steal a vial of Connor’s blood, which comes in handy when Sahjhan shows up at the office and tells Lilah that he has a plan to destroy Angel but it’ll be “difficult, if not impossible” because he needs the blood of Angel’s son. (“Got it!” Lilah interjects, taking Sahjhan aback.) And Holtz is proceeding with his plan to target everyone involved in Angel Investigations, first by baiting them with a fake client who asks them to investigate a nest of vampires by the ferris wheel down on the pier. When Fred and Gunn go down to check it out, they’re attacked by vamps planted by Holtz, while Justine records their counter-attack with a videocamera.
Wesley does eventually see through Holtz’s plant Aubrey, and he and Angel tell her to warn Holtz that if he ever goes after their people again, he’s a dead man. But then Wesley follows Aubrey back to Holtz’s hideout, where Wes and Holtz have a conversation about responsibility and redemption and revenge that—to me—was every bit as exciting as any demon-battle, because it got to the heart of this series’ dominant themes. Can the world be neatly divided into good and evil, with the former righteously working to eradicate the latter? Or is there so much evil inherent in the world that there’s no way to get rid of it without some kind of self-defeating apocalypse?
The visit with Holtz is also in keeping with Wes’ strange journey in this episode, which sees him consulting a wizard for more guidance on the prophecy, which inevitably leads Wes to an encounter with an ancient spirit who’s taken on the guise of a hamburger-shaped fast-food drive-in speaker. It’s a funny scene, but also an ominous one, since it seems to confirm that what Wes has been reading in his books isn’t out-dated conjecture. It’s real. The hamburger says so.
After all, it’s not like Wesley doesn’t have reason to be worried. He’s seen firsthand how Angel can change for the worse. Plus, the warnings delivered by the talking hamburger begin to manifest by the end of “Loyalty.” The Earth shakes, the air burns, and blood drips across the sky (or at least a baby blanket with a sky design on it). And while Wesley doesn’t want to believe that Angel could ever harm Connor, he can’t help but remember Angel’s own words, from earlier in the episode: “When someone turns into a vampire, there’s no turning back”
“As You Were”
Hey, we’re on a roll this week, because I found “As You Were” to be one of the most entertaining—and unexpectedly emotional—Buffy episodes in a good long while. Bear in mind that I’m a Riley apologist, so I was happy to see Buffy’s ex-boyfriend in Sunnydale, even for just a brief stopover. But I’d hope that even the Riley-hating—of even just the Riley-indifferent—could respect the way he was used in “As You Were,” as a stark reminder of what Buffy’s missing in her life at this moment, and as a catalyst for change.
Riley arrives at an especially vulnerable time for Buffy. She’s just had a vampire show his disgust even the notion of biting her, because she smells like Doublemeat Palace grease. Her application to re-enter UC-Sunnydale was rejected. Willow and Dawn, who’ve previously chastised Buffy for not being around to help with their problems, seem to be on the mend and happy to spend a night out without her. So when Riley shows up unexpectedly at the Doublemeat counter—causing Buffy babble inarticulately, “My hat has a cow”—she grabs her coat and bolts from work the moment he asks for her help.
And it’s remarkable how much more quippy and confident she is by Riley’s side. When he describes the rapidly replicating Suvolte Demon he’s after, she says, “So they’re like really mean Tribbles.” When Buffy compliments Riley on his “nice wheels,” he cracks, “Came with the car.” When they say they wish they had time to catch up and compare war stories, Buffy smirks, “Did you die?… I’m gonna win.” And when they have to descend to the bottom of a dam to chase he Suvolte, Riley asks, “Hold onto me?” and Buffy sighs, “If that’s what it takes.”
But then another agent shows up: a woman named Sam, who calls Riley her “husband.” Cue Buffy: “Husband, Wife… And those aren’t just code names?” Buffy tries to impress them both by killing the Suvolte for them, but but it turns out they didn’t want the beast dead, they wanted to track it to its eggs, which are to be sold on the black market by a local criminal who calls himself “The Doctor.” So Buffy invites Riley and Sam back to her house to plot their next move, but while Willow promises privately to Buffy that, “I’m prepared to hate this woman any way you want,” it turns out that neither of them can hate Sam because she’s so cool. Sam even has a heart-to-heart with Buffy and tells her how much she admires her and tries to live up to her standard.
Which makes it all the more painful when the adventure ends and Sam and Riley take their leave. Not only are they a happy couple who do the same kind of work that Buffy does—albeit with more support and more stability—but they remind her that she’s an awesome person, who should have more self-respect. To quote Riley: “So right now you’re not in the greatest place. … Wheel never stops turning, Buffy. You’re up, you’re down, doesn’t change what you are. And you’re a hell of a woman.” Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like this season needed a moment like that, making explicit the sentiment that’s been behind a lot of what’s gone on lately. I found it even more moving than many of the more overtly tragic moments in season six.
It also clarified what Buffy needs to do about Spike. When she’s talking with Sam earlier in the episode, Buffy says, “I don’t want to be defined by who I’m with,” but then goes rushing to Spike’s side, saying, “Tell me you love me,” asking for validation from the one person in Sunnydale who genuinely values her—even if he expresses his feelings in sickening ways. But then Riley catches Buffy with Spike, and tells her that Spike is “The Doctor,” even leading her down to the nest of eggs in Spike’s lair. Later, Buffy goes to break up with him and he pleads, “You know what I am!” and she agrees that she does, which is why this relationship is so unfair to both of them. “I’m using you,” she says.
I like Spike, but as I’ve written here before, I haven’t much liked the arc of the Spike/Buffy relationship this season, because it’s been built less on Spike’s love for Buffy and more on his excitement that he can hurt her. But now the arc makes more sense to me. Spike had to go from being the sweet gentlemen standing abashedly by Buffy’s front door at the end of season five to the creep who salivates every time she’s within five feet of him, because this relationship was never about Spike. It was about Buffy, and her self-image. That’s what makes it almost inspiring at the end, when she leaves Spike’s shadow and steps into the light, where he can’t go.
- Lilah takes a call from her very confused mother early in “Loyalty.” Were we aware of her mom’s dementia prior to this episode? Is this going to be significant down the road? (Or do I not want to know?)
- Sahjhan looked different to me in this episode, like he had a more detailed set of scars on his face. But we haven’t seen him in weeks, so perhaps I’m mistaken.
- Loved the chemistry between Lilah and Sahjhan, as she tells him W&H’s official no-Angel-killing policy while scrawling “COUNT ME IN” on a legal pad, and as he banters with her later at a bar. (Best lines: “Sorry I’m late. Kind of ironic, me being a time-shifter and all,” and “Would it impress you if I told you I invented daylight savings time?”)
- Potentially significant subplot in “Loyalty,” as Gunn confess to Fred that he’s afraid that if he fights alongside her in the future, he’ll be too distracted by her safety to concentrate on the task at hand. Ultimately though, he’d rather be with Fred than fight demons, if it comes down to a choice. And so Wesley is even more alone. Damn.
- Significant subplot in “As You Were,” too, as Xander and Anya spend almost the entire episode wringing their hands—and scarfing down lots of chips—over the disaster they fear their wedding is going to be. Their respective guest-lists are filled with demons and drunks, and unlike Riley and Sam, they themselves are just not that cool. The couple compares their wedding-planning to “staging the invasion of Normandy… without the laughs.”
- Meanwhile, Willow laughs smugly to herself, remembering how when she was in high school she used to dream about her wedding to Xander.
- Riley’s method of distracting a screaming Sunnydale populace when the Suvolte Demon is on a rampage downtown: “National Forestry Service, we got a wild bear!”
- When Riley asks if Buffy has “a safe house,” she replies, “I got a house. I think it’s safe. Sometimes you can’t even leave.”
- The office politics at Doublemeat Palace are very Machiavellian.