There was a lot of heavy-lifting in Angel’s fourth-season opener, and I’m not just referring to the hoisting of Angel’s glass-and-metal casket from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The season three finale had been fraught with irresolution: Angel sunk! Cordelia ascendant! Lorne departed! Wes sleeping with the enemy! Fred and Gunn left to take care of the business and look after Angel’s snake of a son, Connor! So what happens next?
In the first half of “Deep Down,” what mainly happens is recap. The episode is packed with expository dialogue, clearly designed to be new-viewer friendly. For example: Wes saying to Justine, “You think she would be disappointed? Your sister? That’s where it all began, isn’t it? Sister murdered by a vampire, consumed by a need of revenge…?” I’d say roughly half the conversation in the first half of “Deep Down” is along these lines, and while I can appreciate the need to catch the newbies up, and while I do think that credited writer Steven S. DeKnight handled this business as efficiently as he could, I can’t say that it wasn’t a little momentum-defying.
It didn’t help either that “Deep Down” picks up three months after the events of the finale, which is effective from a “grand scheme of things” perspective—letting us know just how long Angel has been suffering underwater—but necessitated still more dialogue in which characters let us know what they’ve been up to. Fred and Gunn have been dealing with Angel Investigations’ rapidly depleting bank account, while also following the scant leads they have to the whereabouts of Angel and Cordy. Connor has been pretending to help them but mostly has been grooving on all the demon-killing (along with throwing his guardians off the Angel-trail) in between sulking in his room with his GameBoy, like any non-hell-dimension-raised teen. Wes has been hate-banging Lilah at every opportunity, after which they go their separate ways: he to search the ocean for Angel with his captive Justine, and she to engineer a takeover of her department of Wolfram & Hart, complete with a slick decapitation of Linwood Murrow. And Cordelia has been dwelling in the heavens, where she pops up at the end of the episode to say, “God, I am so bored.”
I don’t want to sound like I’m really down on “Deep Down,” because I’m not, at all. The expository dialogue creaks, sure, but the episode’s also packed with moments of deep coolness, including the aforementioned decapitation, and the revelation of how dark Wesley has gotten since his exile. (The bit where a post-coital Wesley boots out Lilah and then opens his closet to reveal a chained-up Justine is especially tuff, as is his decision to cut open his own arm to feed Angel.) The vampire-fighting action is pretty thrilling too, as Fred and Gunn work alongside Connor to fell blood-suckers who come at them from all sides (and even climb up the walls).
And though a lot of “Deep Down” seemed overly geared to newcomers, the episode is peppered with little fantasy sequences—from the slipping mind of a constrained Angel—that would really only resonate with fans. Angel imagines the whole team back together, eating a holiday meal (which, cruelly, he never gets to taste). He imagines Cordelia showing up for their date by the sea (which ends with him biting her). He imagines Connor, crouching against the skyline, superhero-style, before they team up to fight beasties (until Angel snaps his son’s neck). So many visions of happiness, undone by the tensions that lie beneath these various relationships.
It’s because of these hallucinations that Angel isn’t immediately sure if Wes’s rescue is real. So Wes brings Angel back to the Hyperion, after calling ahead to warn Fred and Gunn about Connor’s duplicity. Fred brings Connor a baloney sandwich then shocks him and ties him up—deceiving him that way he’s been deceiving her—and when Connor breaks free and starts going after Fred and Gunn, Angel steps up and tells the boy to knock it off, because he has something to say.
I think my biggest issue with all the catch-up chatter early in “Deep Down” (and even with some of the fantasy sequences) is that it tells the viewer about how the characters are feeling instead of letting us feel it along with them. This is only really a problem when it comes to Connor, because even though I find that character compelling, I don’t see him as Baby Connor the way that Angel and Fred do; and since the emotional connection isn’t evident to me, the angst of the Angel/Connor estrangement has been a tougher sell.
That said, Angel’s episode-closing speech to Connor is a humdinger, as he establishes his innocence in Holtz’s death, reaffirms the operating philosophy of Angel Investigations, then kicks the kid out until he’s ready to deal with the way things really are instead of what Holtz brainwashed him into believing. It’s a stirring speech, full of affirmations for the outcast. “It doesn’t matter where we came from,” Angel says, adding, “We live as though the world were what it should be, to show it what it can be.” Now, for me, that’s all the Angel recap I needed.
“Same Time, Same Place”
The third episode of Buffy’s seventh season shows how an emotional moment can work when it’s fully earned. The main purpose of “Same Time, Same Place” is to bring Willow back into the fold, but the reunion gets delayed because of bit of magical hoo-hah—unconsciously instigated by Willow, we later learn—that leads to her being invisible and intangible to Buffy, Xander and Dawn, and vice-versa. Making matters worse, a demon named Gnarl has been going around Sunnydale, stripping the skin off its victims, such that they look like Warren did after Dark Willow was through with him. Buffy was already a little unsure about taking Willow back—“She didn’t finish being not-evil,” Dawn says about Willow’s truncated rehab with Giles—but now she’s especially worried that Willow is still a villain. We, on the other hand, watching at home, can see that she’s more like the old Will than she’s been in a good long while. And so we wait, anxiously hoping that Buffy will get to see what we see.
That’s a smart way for the writers—led by credited episode-writer Jane Espenson—to put us in the shoes of the characters, and make us feel their sense or worry and anticipation. Putting the reunion on hold also gives Willow a chance to ask for help from Anya and Spike, a couple of characters that she hasn’t spent much one-on-one time with on the show over the years. (That was one major downside to the Willow/Tara relationship; it kept Willow isolated from her friends much of the time, not to mention her friend’s friends.)
Willow finds Anya as she’s cleaning debris out of The Magic Box, which prompts Willow to apologize because she feels responsible for the destruction of Anya’s business. (“You feel really responsible?” Anya snaps.) They catch up a little, and then later Willow goes to Anya for help casting a spell to find Gnarl. (“This isn’t going to get all sexy, is it?” Anya asks.) Willow also learns that Anya’s not allowed to teleport any more without permission from her vengeance-demon superiors, and the two of them bond over their diminished status and their mutual fear of hurting people.
As for Spike, Willow comes to him in the Sunnydale High basement, and finds him raving like a loon. Only this time, it’s not entirely Spike’s fault. At the same time that Willow’s asking him questions about the skinless bodies, Buffy and Xander are talking to him too, and since the two parties can’t see each other, Spike’s simultaneous conversations look all the crazier.
“Same Time, Same Place” does a fine job of doubling back when necessary to show how all the characters are sharing spaces without realizing it. There’s a nice moment early in the episode where Willow hears a door close and drops her address book, while downstairs Buffy, Xander and Dawn close the door and hear the address book drop. And later, once Willow tracks Gnarl to a nearby cave at roughly the same time that Dawn, Spike, Buffy and Xander do, they all mill about Gnarl’s lair, unbeknownst to each other.
Well, Dawn doesn’t. She gets slashed by Gnarl and paralyzed, so Buffy and Xander have to rush her back home, where they run into Anya, who points out that Dawn’s body is posable, and mentions casually that Willow is probably back at the cave. There, Willow has been paralyzed by Gnarl, who taunts her by saying that her friends have left her to die in one of most gruesome ways imaginable.
As with last week’s big Spike speech in the church, I though the Gnarl/Willow conversation in the cave was a powerful scene that would’ve been even more powerful at about half the length. That said, the monster effects on Gnarl are awesomely disgusting, and the scene pays off beautifully when Buffy returns to vanquish Gnarl and Willow realizes that her friends didn’t leave her after all. The joy on Willow and Buffy’s faces as the finally see each other again makes all the obstacles put in their way worth it. The moment is one of sweet relief.
Of course, given that this is Buffy The Vampire Slayer, we’ll see how long the good feeling lasts. But as a fan, I was happy for at least a glimpse of the way things used to be. I guess I’m with Xander, who didn’t seem all that concerned about what Willow would be like when she came back from England. I too would stand at the airport with my yellow-crayoned sign, ready to say, “Hi, Will.”
- Fred isn’t allowed to say “bro.” Or “dog.” Or “word.”
- Lorne has taken Vegas by storm with his green skin and Liberace clothes. When Fred calls him to see if he’s picked up any vibrations on Angel or Cordy, Lorne says no, then tells her to “make sure Fluffy’s getting enough love.” Fred’s not sure what that means, but she thinks it might be inappropriate.
- The interactions between Wesley and his old crew remain as deliciously thorny as ever. Fred and Gunn had asked him for help finding Angel, but he refused them while hunting on his own. Then when he brought Angel back, they were a little angry at him for not warning them about Connor sooner. So, yeah… no warm family dinners anytime soon, I don’t imagine.
- Angel insists to Connor that his summer under the sea wasn’t so bad. (“I got stuck in a hell dimension by my girlfriend one time for 100 years.”)
- Speaking of that old girlfriend, I’d never noticed this before but the Summers have maybe the comfiest-looking couch I’ve ever seen.
- Willow spends some time looking at the window where the bullet came through and killed Tara. Another way in which this episode is about sharing spaces with non-entities.
- Xander has apparently been boasting—and rightly so—about how his conversation with Dark Willow about their shared history calmed her down. (“I saved the world with talking. From my mouth. My mouth saved the world.”)
- When Xander find the first skinless dude, he calls in Buffy, and she says, “I gotta get a job where I don’t get called right away for this stuff.”
- Willow starts to tell Anya to teleport “quick like a bunny,” but then remembers Anya’s leporidaphobia and stops short.
- Dawn takes over the computer-nerd researcher role on the Scoobies, reciting facts about demons. (“She knows about viscera,” Buffy sniffs. “Makes you proud.”) Dawn also claims she has big plans for her future Scooby-participations, which involves developing a database and wearing high heels.
- Anya boasts to Willow that her vengeance demon work is taking her all over the world, including Brazil. Later, she offers Dawn a brazil nut.
- Nice visual gag as the posed Dawn regains control of her body and falls over in a quick cutaway shot after Gnarl is killed.
- “Spike’s what in the what-ment?” / “Insane. Base.”
- Our TV Club pal Myles McNutt has resumed his own Buffy/Angel “cultural catchup” project at his blog, here. Check it out, won’t you.