“Long Day’s Journey”
(season 4, episode 9; original airdate 1/22/03)
(season 4, episode 10; original airdate 11/29/03)
“You’re a champion. You don’t get personal days.”
That’s Lorne, delivering the first of what will be many pep-talks delivered by different characters throughout “Long Day’s Journey” and “Awakening,” two mostly strong episodes that present our team with an impossible task and a possible solution before cruelly—and I mean cruelly—leaving the heroes far worse off than they began.
“Awakening” is better overall than “Long Day’s Journey,” because it has the amazing twist that I did not see coming. (By which I mean: I could tell with a few minutes to go in the episode that things weren’t as they seemed, but I didn’t realize just how far back the path had diverged.) But both episodes deal persuasively with the significance of teamwork to Angel’s mission, in part by bringing in ancillary members to the group, for good and for ill. And both episodes are hampered by the recurring drags of this season.
You know who they are, and you know how they are, but just for the sake of being thorough, let’s talk briefly about two pretty big stumbling-blocks.
My biggest problem with the Connor character isn’t Vincent Kartheiser’s performance, which I actually like—probably because Mad Men has given me a lot of confidence that he knows what he’s doing—but the way the writers make him either petulant or helpful almost on a whim. It’s the same problem I used to have with Dawn on Buffy, until she matured. I know that teenagers are moody by nature, but that doesn’t make it any less of a bore when Connor mopes around because he’s convinced that everyone hates him for being connected to The Beast, or when he lashes out at his dad for being formerly evil. If I cared about Connor, I’d be me more sympathetic to his complaints. But I don’t, so I’m not. That said, I do like some aspects of Connor’s teenage self-absorption, like when he bulls ahead in a dangerous underground passage, in part out of “I don’t care if I die” self-pity and in part to defy his father. (Of course, since that moment didn’t actually happen-happen, I shouldn’t be too impressed by it.)
I’m really not anti-Cordelia. Really. I’m not. I think Charisma Carpenter is a fine comic actress, and her presence on the show in the early going especially helped bridge the gap between Buffy and Angel. There was a time when I even would’ve been able to accept the possibility of a relationship between Angel and Cordelia. But the writers let that prospect stew too long, and now I’m kind of sick of the smell in the kitchen, if you know what I mean. I don’t want to hear Cordelia saying “I give a whole lot of damn” about Angel’s feelings. I don’t want to hear her start to say “I don’t know if you ever… could…” before getting distracted by a mystical event, leaving Angel desperate for her to finish the sentence. (I’ve always hated that kind of dialogue tease in general, actually.) And even beyond the Angel/Cordy non-starter, I feel like Cordelia’s character has been a mess this season. At one point she refers to The Powers That Be and her time in the clouds, which is a reminder of how pointless that little interlude in her life was. Why was she there? What did she do? Why was she allowed to come back? So many questions that not only haven’t been answered, they’ve barely been asked.
Luckily, these episodes aren’t all about Connor and Cordelia. “Long Day’s Journey” brings back my beloved Gwen Raiden, that quippy, tortured, super-powered super-fox, who arrives at Angel Investigations after she sees The Beast kill one of her employers, a Mr. Ashet. With Gwen’s help, the team learns that The Beast is after a set of “totems,” which dwell within a group of five guardians known as the Ra-Tet. (I hope I have that right. It’s mentioned at one point that the guardians are the totems, but they also seem to have “a toy surprise” inside, according to Gwen.) Gwen and Angel go looking for one of the Ra-Tet and find him dead, but do meet another, a slick-talking horndog named Manjet—but you can call him “Manny.” Manny explains that The Beast is gathering these totems so he can block out the sun—“there’s props and a ritual and a chant and a thing”—so the team spirits Manny away to a panic room in Gwen’s awesome super-lair. (Am I a Gwen fan? Yes I am.) But Angel and Cordelia fall asleep while they’re supposed to be on Manny-watch, and The Beast gets away with the last totem, which he uses to blacken the sky, as planned. As he does, he utters these chilling words: “Join with me, Angelus!”
The next special guest arrives in “Awakening” in the form of Wo-Pang, a mystic with the skills to execute a soul-ectomy on Angel. Seems Wesley has decided that since The Beast shares some history with Angelus—a fact confirmed by Cordelia in a vision, though Angel doesn’t remember it—then the thing to do is bring Angelus back, in a controlled environment. They construct a cage for Angel’s evil alter-ego, and a jar to safeguard his soul. But then Wo-Pang betrays Wesley, and tries to kill Angel, claiming to be a servant of The Beast himself. The gang subdues Wo-Pang, and discovers a history of The Beast tattooed on his body, including instruction on how to kill the demon with a special sword, located in an underground chamber. “And you wanted to turn me into Angelus by having an evil shaman cut off my head,” Angel smirks at Wes. “Not that that wasn’t a swell plan, too.”
Of course we later find out that Wo-Pang didn’t actually betray anyone. Everything that happens from the moment Wo-Pang tries to decapitate Angel onward is all in Angel’s head, as part of the “becoming Angelus” process. On one level, this is a cheat, because it means that an entire, fairly exciting adventure—with the team venturing through an Indiana Jones-style booby-trapped cave to retrieve The Beastkiller from a dimensional warp—never actually happened. But really, I don’t mind it, because the revelation that Angel has become Angelus is so boldly ruthless on the writers’ part. Not only is the day not saved, but now Angelus is in the mix. We’re not back at Square One; we’re off the board entirely.
What’s especially interesting about Angel’s reverie is the way it depicts the kind of “happiness” that could cause him to transform. It’s obvious—or should be—from the moment that Cordelia declares her love for Angel that everything’s about to go wrong, and when they start making love, well, that’s when I realized that we had to be in dreamland. But there were hints even earlier. When Wes says he’s sorry for the Wo-Pang plan, Angel smugly savors the rare apology, enjoying the company of his old friend. Later, Angel’s the one responsible for rallying his troops, with a speech about how they believe in each other. After he retrieves the sword that can slay The Beast, the demon smiles and says, “Is that what I think it is?” and then they have a rousing fight in which Angel comes out on top after Connor swoops in. Even Gunn and Wes congratulate each other—teammates again. Then it all gets yanked away.
Compare Angel’s happiness in “Awakening” to the despair in “Long Day’s Journey,” in which Fred and Wesley suggest tricking The Beast into disappearing through a dimensional portal, and a weary Gunn gives a “not this again” head-shake. The fantasy sequence in “Awakening” suggests a way forward for Angel Investigations, through cooperation and fortitude. But in reality, they’re still mired in distrust, resentment, and bad habits. And now they’ve replaced their leader with a soulless evil maniac.
Looks like the sun’s going to be dark for a while.
- I have to say, I also think these episodes missed an opportunity to properly frame this world-destroying evil in the context of, y’know, the world. Early in “Long Day’s Journey,” we’re told that The Beast has turned Los Angeles into “an abattoir,” and at the end of the episode he succeeds in blocking out the sun. But we don’t really get to see L.A. in turmoil—for budgetary reasons, no doubt—and because the sun-blocking turns out to be localized, the threat seems ominous, but not apocalyptic. Maybe if we’d seen a little more panic in the streets, or if the general chaos had reached our heroes in some way, that would’ve driven the crisis home.
- Gwen, realizing that her description of The Beast matches Lorne, quickly adds, “He wasn’t wearing lamé, though.” (“The evil ones can’t pull it off,” Lorne says. “It looks camp.”)
- Gwen, exasperated by Angel’s clumsiness: “Where were you when they taught stealth in superpower school?” (Can I say once again how much I dig Gwen? Maybe it’s the superhero fan in me, but the more Angel and Buffy resemble the JLA, the happier I am.)
- It’s implied—more than implied—that Angel and Cordelia’s unscheduled nap was an inside job, but the question of who may have drugged them was dropped by the end of these two episodes. Can I assume we haven’t heard the last of this? Because that would be a weird plot point to bring up and then abandon.
- Lorne gets no reading from Angel regarding his past encounters with The Beast. It doesn’t help that Angel sings “The Night That The Lights Went Out In Georgia.”
- When Wo-Pang requested a mug of “Orange Zinger” tea before beginning the ritual, it reminded me that I had some Rooibos tea in my pantry I’d been meaning to try. So I paused the episode and made a cup. Delicious! Thanks Wo-Pang!
- “Wood… why’d it have to be wood?”
- Cordelia, on hearing that they’ll have to try hard not to jostle the straps or ring the bells in an elaborate underground trap, stares down at her chest and mutters, “I knew you two would get me into trouble someday.”
- Another example of how “Awakening” recaptures what makes the Angel team special: Gunn’s enthusiasm when Angel brings home the special sword. “Can I play with it?” he stammers excitedly.