Buffy / Angel: “The Magic Bullet”/“Sacrifice”

Buffy / Angel: “The Magic Bullet”/“Sacrifice”

“The Magic Bullet” and “Sacrifice”

Let’s say that you were present at the birth of a savior—or if not physically present, at least among the first to bask in the radiance of a deity with the power to connect all human minds, banishing feelings of loneliness and fear. Imagine that you’re in the inner circle, trusted to help usher in a new age. Now imagine that in an instant, the scales fall away from your eyes, and you see that the person you’re serving is a hideous monster that eats people. Would you be happy to regain your free will and realize the truth? Or despondent and angry that you lost that sunny, satisfied feeling?

“The Magic Bullet” and “Sacrifice” continue the Jasmine arc begun in last week’s excellent “Shiny Happy People,” and though neither is as funny, tense or fascinating as that episode, both thoughtfully weigh what it means to be an outcast, by contrasting our heroes’ awakening with what they encounter in its wake.

We begin with Fred, initially the lone voice of reason at Angel Investigations. In an even more Body Snatchers-y scene than the ones in “Shiny Happy People,” Fred bangs on a passing car, Kevin McCarthy-style, in a placid, cheerful Los Angeles street, while fleeing Wesley and Gunn. Once she escapes, she makes her way to Magic Bullet Books, looking for a sympathetic ear from the conspiracy-minded proprietor, Ted (played by Patrick Fischler, better known these days for his stints on Mad Men and Lost). But instead, Ted is just as cowed as every other Los Angeleno. It’s not that he doesn’t still believe in faked moon landings or second gunmen. “I just don’t worry about it anymore.”

There’s a clear, ironic contrast being drawn there, between a formerly paranoid guy named “Ted” who’s now cheerfully at ease, and a former optimist named “Fred” who’s turned cold. Even the way Amy Acker plays Fred in “The Magic Bullet” and “Sacrifice” has changed.  Her voice is deeper; her fluttery Texas twang diminished. And seeing what Jasmine has done for Ted—as well as remembering what Jasmine did for her—fills Fred with heavy feelings of regret as she lures Angel and Jasmine to Magic Bullet Books in order to splatter Angel with Jasmine’s blood, which she knows will break her spell. She genuinely feels bad about what she has to do to Angel, and then later to her friends.

Realizing that the “shooting Jasmine to extract her blood” plan will likely only work once, Fred and the newly awakened Angel discern that Cordelia’s blood might do the trick as well, so they return to the Hyperion and cut Cordy’s hands, so they can infect Lorne, Wes, and Gunn (the latter of whom says, “Thanks for nothing.”). Wes goes after Connor—“I’ve kidnapped him before,” he says wryly—but finds that the blood-trick doesn’t work on the lad. Instead, “The Magic Bullet” ends with Connor alerting Jasmine and her followers that the traitors are in-house.

Despite my ongoing issues with Connor as a character, he fills an important role in these episodes. Connor so wants to belong somewhere and to believe in something that he’s easily swayed by Jasmine. He hates magic, but has no problem with the ju-ju when Jasmine wields it. (I’m not sure Connor even thinks of what she does as magic.) He even thinks it’s “cool” when she eats some of her followers and gets all glowy, and doesn’t seem to notice (or care) that when Jasmine telepathically guides her followers to surround Fred with “her love,” massive destruction ensues. It ain’t all flowers and lemon drops.

I preferred the skulking around and emotional resonance of “Magic Bullet” to the more action-oriented “Sacrifice,” which is mostly about how Jasmine and Connor rally the whole city to hunt “the free will gang.” The main purpose of “Sacrifice” is to turn up the heat on the heroes, and to illustrate Jasmine’s growing power. Before, when one of her followers got hurt, she experienced the wound and it impacted her for a few moments at least. Now Jasmine heals right away, and her voice can be heard when her disciples talk. 

But there is a secondary purpose to “Sacrifice,” which took me some reflection to get. (And I freely admit that I may be over-thinking this.) When the episode begins, our heroes are primarily concerned with escaping from the Hyperion, and once they achieve that goal by hiding out in the sewer, Angel has to admit that he doesn’t have any kind of plan for how to proceed. (Gunn lets him know that “I ain’t eatin’ no rats,” and when Angel says, “Neither am I,” Gunn snaps, “Good, the plan’s comin’ together.”) Then they find another group of non-Jasmine-ites, who’ve been holing up underground for a while. One of the biggest persistent flaws of the Angel characters is that they have a hard time seeing beyond themselves. Now, having freed themselves from Jasmine’s control, they stumble into the realization that they’re not the only brave souls in L.A.

It’s telling then—though not surprising—that the first thing they do when they meet another band of resisters is to ruin their lives. The underground crew includes a little boy named Matthew, who runs away when he sees Angel vamp up. Gunn and Fred later find Matthew on the surface—where the kid, says, heartbreakingly, “You didn’t tell me the sun came back out.”—and Gunn knocks him unconscious so that he can bring the boy back home. But when he wakes up down below, Matthew laughs in Jasmine’s voice. By trying to save Matthew, the gang has turned him.

Angel and Wes, meanwhile, are on the trail of a kind of an insectoid demon, which has been stalking the underground-ers for a while. When they find the demon (which is in the process of doing something unpleasant to a corpse), it mentions offhandedly that “We loved her first,” indicating that it might have some kind of connection to Jasmine. The insectoid then mocks Angel and Wes for giving her a name, indicating further that if they knew Jasmine’s real name, they’d finally have the upper hand.

The insectoid demon is a little too Gollum-y for my taste, but I did find it to be a useful point of comparison with the demon that Fred meets in “The Magic Bullet.” Fred ducks into a hole in the ground at one point in the previous episode, and finds a runty “executive demon” who says things like, “You scared the cream-cheese out of me,” while insisting that he’s not harmful. But then Fred spies his stash of human hands, and though the demon says, “Why would anyone keep a stash of these tasty… disgusting things around?” the jig is up. 

In “The Magic Bullet,” the demons are small, the lairs are small, the motivations are narrow and self-driven. In “Sacrifice,” the demon is looming and legitimately scary, and at the end of the episode, Angel is transported to a surreal realm full of insectoid demons. Clearly, there’s something much bigger going on.

Stray observations:

  • Hey, “Sacrifice” was written by Ben “The Tick” Edlund! Neat!
  • On the radio, an announcer describes how L.A.’s civic leaders are reacting to the arrival of Jasmine, including the Archdiocese, which is replacing its images of Christ and Mary with images of Jasmine. (“Way to go, Catholic church!”)
  • So apparently Jasmine’s not ready to go national or global yet, limiting her influence to L.A. for the moment. I’m not sure how plausible it is that her story wouldn’t have broken wider, but hey, we are talking magic here.
  • “I thought Our Lady Of The Perpetual Sea Breeze was the real deal until The Divine Miss J walked right through the door and right into my ass. Which is where my heart is. Physiologically. I could show you an x-ray.”
  • Lorne isn’t the slickest deceiver in the universe. After he sees the truth about Jasmine, he goes to go round up and un-convert Wes and Gunn, and as he walks through the Hyperion lobby, he nervously says “Feeling the love!” to everyone, while muttering to himself, “Tonight the role of Judas Iscariot will be played by Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan.”
  • As often happens in Angel, a transformative supernatural event gives the characters an excuse to express something they already feel. Example: When our Jasmine-influenced heroes speculate on why Fred would reject their deity’s love, Gunn grunts, “Maybe ’cuz she has a history of doin’ that.”
  • Meanwhile, Wes, describing Fred to Jasmine’s disciples, says, “Don’t let her grace or gentle beauty fool you… ”
  • The Manilow love continues: Angel and Connor sing about Jasmine to the tune of “Mandy.”
  • Fred reassures Gunn that she probably just heard some horrible monster skittering around, not rats.
  • Jasmine gets rid of Cordelia after Angel and company have figured out the blood trick. And our heroes, in an especially sad moment, admit that they’re going to have to forget about her. Where has Cordy gone? “A safe place.” To be continued, I’m sure.
  • Next week: the penultimate episode of this Angel season, “Peace Out,” plus Buffy, “Empty Places.”

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