I can’t say that “Damage” is a great episode of Angel—especially in comparison to the episode that follows it—but it was a necessary one, serving to catch us up on what the rest of the Buffyverse has been up to since Spike saved the world. And if anyone’s going to tackle that assignment, it may as well be Andrew Wells, who can make even the driest material more flavorful. (Some of you disagree, I know. But as I learned last week, some of you disagree with me that Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is awesome, so, y’know… different strokes and all that.)
In “Damage,” Andrew arrives in Los Angeles to help Angel and his team apprehend one of the activated Slayers, a young woman named Dana, who has broken out of an asylum and has been slashing at people indiscriminately while babbling in various foreign languages. (When Spike encounters her, he confidently states that he knows what she is: “Chinese demon.”) Andrew is thrilled to see Spike, whom he didn’t know was alive, and after a firm hug Andrew boasts to all assembled that, “We saved the world together. Buffy helped, but it was mostly us.” Andrew then commandeers the Wolfram & Hart conference room—“I’ll take it from here, Pryce”—to fill everyone in on the ancient and recent history of “the slayers of the Vampyr,” explaining that the horde of new Slayers are now being trained by Giles and some of the Sunnydale crew, in what Andrew describes as “the full X-Men minus the crappy third act.”
As for Dana, the reasons for her psychosis are multiple. For one, she’s being flooded with the memories of other Slayers. (Hence the different languages.) For another, she’s haunted by her own memories of the maniac who kidnapped and tortured her and murdered her family. She sees that man’s face in everyone she meets: including Spike, whom she sedates and binds, before hacking off his hands.
So “Damage” then becomes yet another Angel episode in which the characters talk openly about their evil pasts, and wring their hands (if they still have hands, that is) over whether they’ve really changed. Spike feels guilty about Dana’s horrible past, because even though he didn’t torment her family specifically, he did plenty in his life that was just as bad or worse. He killed for kicks; while Angel did it out of malice. But they’re bound by their shared pasts, even as they’re pursuing divergent roads to redemption. In theory, this is a powerful theme; but Angel has gone to this well a lot so far this season, with diminishing returns.
Still, as I said, even the most strident message is easier to take when Andrew delivers it. At one point in “Damage,” Andrew alludes to his gift at spinning a story, and by the end of the episode he’s able to claim the subdued Dana and tell the grumpy Angel that Buffy and company won’t claim him as an ally so long as he’s working with Wolfram & Hart—and do it all with a smile, letting his Slayer army flex their muscles while he faux-sheepishly completes his mission. More to the point: Andrew gets into the heads of Angel and Spike, getting them to see their world more as a fantasy, such that even Angel is using the word “vampyrs” before Andrew takes his leave.
All of which sets the stage for the decidedly stronger “You’re Welcome.” Some of the connections are small, such as Spike having his hands amputated and re-attached by W&H, which puts in the same exclusive club as Lindsey, his fake seer. Even the fact that Lindsey has been around lately gives this episode a “full circle” feel, bringing Angel back to its early days—a feeling that’s amplified when we see a brief snippet of the commercial that the real Doyle filmed for Angel Investigations before he died. And then to solidify the nostalgic vibe, we get a visit from Cordelia Chase.
If I wanted to nitpick, I could note that Cordelia serves roughly the same purpose in “You’re Welcome” that Andrew did in “Damage.” Angel gets a call that Cordelia has awakened from her coma, and his old colleague (and never-quite-lover) spends the next half-hour or so of screen time telling Angel that he’s lost his way, and that his association with Wolfram & Hart is distracting him. In essence, there’s no point being made here that Angel hasn’t made multiple times this season.
But method matters. I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t great to see Cordelia again, especially since this was “classic Cordelia” and not the draggy latter-day version. (There’s a reason for that, of course. But we’ll get back to it.) And given how much season five of Angel has felt like a new start, it was great to have Cordelia remind the audience about Conner, and to see her doing old-school research with Wesley, if only to provide a sense of continuity. Plus, her reactions to the world of Wolfram & Hart are priceless. While Angel’s trying to insist that the place isn’t so bad, Cordelia’s being startled by demon-slaves, and by Harmony, and by Angel literally shaking hands (and making a racquetball date) with a guy who looks like The Devil.
Which brings up another reason why “You’re Welcome” is so enjoyable: It’s very funny. The plot of the episode kicks into gear once Lindsey arrives at Wolfram & Hart, slipping into a secret chamber undetected thanks to the tattoos on his body, which serve as a kind of combination cloaking device and force field. In a short span of time, Wesley figures out what those rune designs are for, and gets to work trying to deactivate them, while Spike figures out that he’s been manipulated by this “Doyle,” and Angel figures out that “Doyle” is Lindsey and that he’s in cahoots with Eve. This all culminates in a well-staged fight in the bowels of W&H, where Lindsey seems to have the upper hand until Angel suddenly regains his mojo, and with the help of Cordelia and the Senior Partners sends Lindsey to another dimension and sends Eve packing. All of this is very exciting. But what makes it worthy of the Angel pantheon are the moments like when Harmony offers to torture Eve on Angel’s behalf (“Is this okay? I am evil, technically.”), and when Angel quickly agrees to let Spike help him after insisting that he wouldn’t “risk anybody I care about,” and when Spike greets the security zombies that come shambling out of the shadows by saying, “No need to be gentle, we’re all dead men here.” David Fury is the credited writer-director on “You’re Welcome” and while he’s always been one of the Whedon all-stars, this episode is some of his best work: sharp, action-packed, and witty.
“You’re Welcome” pays off well too, as Cordelia gets a private moment with Angel in his office in the aftermath, and tells him that while he’s still on shaky ground with this Wolfram & Hart gig, she knows he’ll make the right choices ultimately. Then she kisses him—“One for the road,” she says—tosses in a, “You’re welcome,” and disappears. Because as it turns out, the “Cordelia” that helps Angel through this crisis isn’t the flesh-and-blood Cordelia who’s been in a coma for nearly a year. At the end of the episode, Angel gets a call that the real Cordelia has died. It’s never spelled out exactly who this other Cordelia is, but it’s implied that she was some kind of spirit: the soul of the true Cordelia, serving for one last time as a kind of emissary for The Powers. In a touching grace note, Angel mumbles a “thank you” after she’s gone.
I want to be clear here, because sometimes when I grumble about some of the problems I’m having with a Buffy or Angel season, I leave some of you with the impression that I’m not enjoying myself. Don’t misapprehend; I’m liking the fifth season of Angel plenty thus far. I love the addition of Spike, and the overall lighter tone, which plays to the Whedon crew’s comic strengths. But I’ll be honest: It hasn’t been a completely smooth ride. As mentioned above, the broody navel-gazing has been a bit much. Also, I confess to being a little disappointed that the writers haven’t done more with the plot possibilities of an evil law firm. After the first couple of episodes, I was expecting a lot more Law & Order mixed in with Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
But Angel has still been very entertaining this season, and it’s been building well to where it stands at the end of “You’re Welcome.” That betwixt-and-between feeling should be largely gone now. Cordelia has left for good, Spike is aware of his proper place, and Angel feels like a champion again. Everyone knows who they are now, yes? Okay. We’re past the midpoint of the season. Let’s drive hard to the finish.
- “In a mellifluous manner.” Seven letters, ending in “y.” Anyone?
- The soundtrack to “Damage” is one of Angel’s most John Carpenter-like, which is a mode the show slips into sometimes when the material is especially gritty and horror-film-esque. By contrast, “You’re Welcome” has a superhero-movie-style score.
- Nice shot of the cruise ship in the background when Spike and Andrew are walking down on the docks. I wonder if that was timed, or if it was a visual effect? (I’m sure the production couldn’t afford to book a ship for one shot.)
- Spike tells Andrew that blood smells like the taste of pennies. Later, when Spike smells something stronger than blood, Andrew asks, “Like nickels?”
- Anyone else get kind of a River Tam-ish vibe off of Dana? (Speaking of which, just a reminder that once Angel is complete, I do plan to move on to Firefly, with assistance from Donna Bowman, who’s never seen a single episode of that show. I hear she’s good; I look forward to working with her.)
- Sign of changing times: In the year that Cordelia was in a coma, Colin Farrell became a star. (If she’d slept another couple of years, she’d have missed him entirely.)
- Really didn’t need to hear Eve talk about Angel having a way with her “comings.”
- Cordelia greeting Spike: “Heard you weren’t evil anymore, which kind of makes the hair silly.”
- Lindsey gloats after stabbing Angel in the chest, but Angel puts him in his place, saying, “Could be worse if it was made out of wood, dumbass.”
- Spike says that demons taste astringent and oaky. Hey, the man’s a gourmand.
- Everyone going to see Cabin In The Woods this weekend? Our fingers are crossed that our sitter can make it on Sunday night.