Buffy / Angel: "The Killer In Me" / “Soulless”

Buffy / Angel: "The Killer In Me" / “Soulless”

“The Killer In Me”

One of the odder recurring traits of Buffy’s final season is the way some episodes don’t really get around to the plot until they’re almost halfway done. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I like deliberate character development in otherwise action-driven TV series—even in ones that only have a handful of episodes remaining in which to tell their story. And though I join the fan-chorus in not being the biggest fan of Kennedy, I appreciated the thought put into the impromptu date with Willow that takes up a good chunk of “The Killer In Me.” Kennedy ducks out of a required Potential field trip by pretending to be sick, then entices Willow to go out with her by claiming to have a “mission,” but really Kennedy just wants to get Willow to have a few drinks at The Bronze and talk about herself. Like: When did she know she was gay? And would she like to be gay with Kennedy? Frankly, this is a conversation worth having, if only to clarify that Willow’s homosexuality was never Tara-specific.

The problem of course is that Willow is having this conversation with Kennedy, who’s barely registered as a character in the previous episodes, and who seems so aggressive and un-nuanced that it’s hard to believe that Willow could be attracted to her. And if I can’t buy their relationship, I can’t buy the emotional arc of “The Killer In Me.”

That said, the primary plot of “The Killer In Me”—once it arrives—is an interesting one. While kissing Kennedy at the end of their date, Willow and everyone she meets is shocked to find that she now looks and sounds like Warren. After she convinces her friends that she’s not The First in Warren disguise—by threatening to reveal Xander’s kindergarten secrets—the Warren-Willow goes looking for help from her old coven of college Wiccans. They are not pleased to see a man in their midst, even if it’s only an enchanted Willow; and besides, “We’re more about healing spirits and nurturing our life force here.” But luckily (?), Willow’s old frenemy Amy is among the Wiccan circle, and pledges to do what she can.

It turns out though that the Amy is the one behind Willow’s transformation, intending this as revenge for Willow being so naturally talented and powerful. Kennedy figures this out when Amy slips and calls Kennedy a Potential, which is something neither she nor Willow had mentioned. But by the time the secret is out, the Warren side of the Warren-Willow becomes more prominent, manifesting in overt misogyny and violence. The Warren-Willow even buys a gun from the same shop Warren bought the gun that killed Tara, and he/she storms into the Summers backyard, in a replay of “Seeing Red.” Kennedy talks him/her down, and breaks the hex with another kiss, which would be an incredibly powerful moment if, again, I cared about Kennedy or believed in this coupling. (Why oh why couldn’t it have been Vi? Or Amanda?)

My other major problem with “The Killer In Me” is that a fairly significant development in the Buffyverse is relegated to a subplot. Spike’s having trouble with the chip in his head, and Buffy looks for help from The Initiative, which involves skulking around their abandoned, bloody lair, where there are still a few beasties around. In the end, Initiative operatives show up, examine the chip, determine that it’s faulty, and give Buffy the option to repair or remove it. Compelling stuff—and probably worthy of an episode all its own.

And continuing the scattered feel of “The Killer In Me,” Giles takes the Potentials out for their VisionQuest™and while he’s away a Watcher named Robson calls and suggests that Giles may actually be dead. Has The First been impersonating Giles all this time? Nobody has touched or hugged Giles, near as they can recall. So Xander leads the rest of the group out into the desert to confront what may be First-Giles. 

This development comes a little out of left field, but is wrapped up blessedly quickly when the Scoobies arrive at the campsite and tackle their very-much-corporeal mentor. And if nothing else, this little detour provides the funniest line of a largely unfunny episode:  “You think I’m evil if I bring a group of girls on a camping trip and don’t touch them?”

“Soulless”

What is it about Angelus? What makes him such an exciting character to watch? In the Buffy days, before the writers lightened Angel up a little, Angelus made an impact because he was so charismatic. But on Angel, Angel’s already a commanding character. So now, what makes the arrival of Angelus so welcome—strictly from a dramatic perspective, of course—is that he tells the truth. And in a workplace full of people with secrets, a truth-teller is the most dangerous demon of all.

I’ve got to give it up to credited writers Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft and director Sean Astin (yes, that Sean Astin) for turning an episode that largely consists of people talking quietly in a dimly lit room into something legitimately suspenseful. From the opening sequence of “Soulless”—in which the gang puts a jar containing Angel’s soul in a wall-safe, and Wes admits, “I spent my life training for this and I’m still not ready,” while the camera moves slowly down to the cell where Angelus sits, blithely singing to himself—the creep-out factor is dialed up to high. Add in the way the bars holding Angelus don’t look tightly spaced enough, and the way he spooks his interrogators (and us) with sudden noises, and the way that the entire Angel Investigations staff is watching the conversations with a troublemaking Angelus on closed-circuit TV (again, a little like us), and yikes… it’s all very unsettling. “It’s just words,” Fred says at one point about Angelus’ barbs. But for a supremely evil being in a cage, words can be weapons.

Pretty much the first two-thirds of “Soulless” sees the various Angel characters wandering down to the basement where Angelus is confined, to try and get him to tell them what he knows about The Beast. Wesley starts, taking a “let’s get comfortable and chat” approach, telling Angelus that they can talk about anything. (“The special smell of a newborn’s neck?” Angelus suggests. “My first nun?”) But sensing that Wes has no real leverage—since he can’t kill or change-back the demon he worked so hard to summon—Angelus brings out the needle, teasing Wesley about his inflated sense of heroic importance, his attraction to Fred, and his long list of personal and professional failures. In summary: “You’re still the same loser no one wanted to sit with at lunch.” 

Fred and Gunn arrive next, to bring Angelus some blood, but their visit turns sour when Angelus grabs Fred through those too-widely-spaced bars. Wesley saves her with some well-placed tranquilizer darts. Back upstairs, Fred thanks Wes, the two kiss, and Gunn almost catches them. The two ex-friends bicker, then throw punches, with Fred getting accidentally swatted on Gunn’s backswing. It’s like an illustration of one of Angelus’ dodges when asked whether he was ever in an alliance with The Beast: “Friends… enemies… hard to keep track.”

Then it’s Connor’s turn with his father—and I use the word “father” carefully, since Connor prefers to think that his dad is really Angelus, not Angel. Their conversation is even meaner than the one between Angelus and Wesley. Angelus tells Connor that “Darla staked herself so she wouldn’t have to hear your first whiny breath,” and then he brings up the subject of Cordelia and asks, “Doesn’t it freak you out that she used to change your diapers?… The first woman you boned is the closest thing you’ve ever had to a mother… There should be a play.”

As for Cordelia, she’s shouldering the shame of Angelus having revealed her affair with Connor—that closed-circuit TV is unforgiving—but she steels up and goes downstairs to offer Angelus “a better ride than a Mustang” in exchange for world-saving information. So finally Angelus starts to talk. He tells Wesley all about a meeting with The Beast in 1789 in Prussia, during which The Beast asked for help eliminating some pesky Nordic priestesses, and Angelus declined. As luck would have it the priestesses—who succeeded in banishing The Beast over 200 years ago—live in Los Angeles now, but when the team arrives at their home/office, they’ve been slaughtered along with their families.

At one point in the episode Cordelia suggests that Angelus is “a disease” that Angel can’t wait to be rid of. But in this episode, he’s more like a rot that spreads through Angel Investigations—and one that they brought on themselves, as these characters so often tend to do. They’re arrogant enough to believe that they can switch Angelus on and off at any time, but after deciding that Angelus is useless and that Angel needs to be restored, they open their wall safe and… soulless.

So now what? One thing I can nearly always say about Angel: I have no idea where this story is going to go from here.

Stray observations:

  • When Buffy tells Spike she’s going to call someone to help with his headaches, he asks, “Who you gonna call?” then realizes that “that phrase is never gonna be useable again.”
  • Willow always turns off the Moulin Rouge DVD at chapter 32 so it has a happy ending. Me, I just watch the musical numbers over and over.
  • Not much Andrew action in “The Killer In Me,” though he does hug the Warren-Willow once he’s convinced he/she’s not The First, and in the process he accidentally gropes him/her. Then later, when Xander assembles the expedition to check on Giles and The Potentials, Andrew quickly pipes up: “Let me just get some tapes for the car!” When Xander tells him he’s not invited, Andrew promises, “I’ll do something evil, like… burning something or… gluing things together.”
  • There are times when I start to ponder just how powerful Angel/Angelus is (or are), and one of those times is when Wes is able to bring him down with a couple of tranquilizer darts. How do those even work on a vampire? Don’t you have to have circulating blood for a drug in the bloodstream to take effect? Am I asking the wrong questions?
  • Nice freeze-frame of a blood-spewing Angelus during the flashback to his encounter with The Beast.
  • Cordelia gives Connor one of Angel’s shirts to wear, and when Connor complains, she says  “If you don’t like it, I could ask Lorne.” (Later, when Connor goes down for his turn to match wits with Angelus, his dad sees the shirt and says, “Looks good on you.” Trying to sting Angelus a little, Connor says, “So did Cordy.” Angelus just grins. “She looks good on everybody.”)
  • I still don’t really care about Connor’s feelings, but I admit to being moved when he became sick to his stomach after seeing a family birthday circled on a calendar in a corpse-strewn suburban home.

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