Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia

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Review etc: "Angel"

Like I said in my last entry, it's Rewatch City for me. I'm writing the chronicles of this adventure in the official BR thread for it, but I thought I might as well make a feature in my own blog as well.

My mental checklist when I finish an episode is review, stray thoughts, graphics, shooting script read-along, vid harvesting, and fic. I'll keep my LJ posts constrained to the review, stray thoughts, and icons. Why icons? I do not know. I do not know why icons. I have no idea what I'm doing as far as graphics are concerned, but this episode has about a zillion of those shots with Angel's face half in shadow and I'm only human and I couldn't stop.

Most of my attention has been going toward analysis of the characters as they are in their formative days, and here's the first thing I really noticed this time around: Angel's disobedient. When her mother came home while Angel was in the kitchen, Buffy didn't actually tell him to stay where he was, but it was obvious that her plan was to shoo her mother upstairs and not let her know that there was a strange man in the house. Even if for some dumb reason he couldn't hear what she was saying, that much was pretty clear. But Angel decides he has a better plan and reveals himself as soon as his shirt's back on.

How very annoying, from Buffy's point of view, and yet. This isn't blind love and Angel doesn't go with the flow. He makes his own choices and does his own thing.

Buffy gets another dose of that during the conversation about why Angel fights vampires...it kind of casts a light on the entirety of both characters through both series, doesn't it? Buffy believes she fights vampires because it's her job - she's not getting paid, but it's a responsibility that she has personally, due to being uniquely suited for it. Angel fights because "someone has to". It's irrelevant at this juncture that Buffy doesn't know he's a vampire or that there's a guilt factor; he's still telling the truth as well as he can. She asks if it's about vengeance and he dodges the question (it really isn't).

The difference between the two sources of motivation is subtle, but it's there. Buffy wouldn't give up slaying if it was no longer her "destiny", but she also wouldn't have looked into it if her superpowers didn't come with a title and a mentor. Angel might feel that he's been steered onto this path by the PTBs, but he sees first that there's a need for someone to fight and second that the someone could be him.

And to Buffy this line of reasoning is so foreign that she immediately inquires about how a career in slaying could possibly jive with having a family. She must have wondered how she's going to hold onto this secret once she gets older and can't have the real job that Joyce expects her to. Angel's answer to it is probably the only one that would make sense to her.

Not bad for a quick exchange that served mostly to set up romantic tension and taunt us with Angel's mystery.

Darla is a straightforward villain at this point and not a terribly interesting one. I found her annoying on my first watch, and I think she already looks way too old to be a student. I like the way an intriguing and multifaceted character emerged from these beginnings, though - she's like Angel in a microcosm. They could have just ditched the character after her death and the show would have carried on without her absence being felt, but instead they found a way for her to offer so much more.

Alongside Darla we get to see the first evolutionary steps of the vampire "family" that the show's mythology gradually builds up (although never nearly as much as I wanted it to). The Master's boring speeches do lead somewhere if you view them through the lens of later revelations about the Fanged Four. "We all work together for the common good": the vampires take care of each other, and at least some of them believe that taking the life of another is a big deal. Why? It could be just an animal hierarchy, but the Master has such affection for certain among his children that he may just be the first vampire to look at if you're exploring the idea of love without a soul - Spike and Dru simply refined it.

The bigger piece of world-building that comes up in this episode, though, is in that one little bit of exposition courtesy of Exposition Librarian: "A vampire isn't a person at all. It may have the movements, the memories, even the personality of the person it takes over, but it is a demon at the core. There's no halfway." I'm on board with this, always have been. No matter how much the show played with the possibility of good vampires, they never crossed the line that they established here - any good tendency could always be explained by the movements, memories, or personality of the former person, or by the demon's desires. It's an impressive thread of internal consistency.

Things get dodgier when they revisit the question after Giles has researched Angelus. There's no record of him killing after he comes to America and Giles can't figure out why. We know that vampires like Spike and Harmony can suppress their need to hunt if they see a good reason for it, like a crush on a human or a well-paying desk job. Giles doesn't consider that. Of course, in the early seasons (hell, all the way through), the Watchers seem to be without key information fairly often if the plot needs it, but this is still a glaring omission; he could have at least theorized.

I think Xander actually presents the issue most accurately: "Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly." Vampires gotta kill because they're vampires and vampires kill. The expression fits even better than he thinks it does, though. Fish don't have to swim; they just won't get anywhere if they don't. Birds can evolve so that flight is not only unnecessary but quite impossible. Vampires, thus, only kill because it's in their nature and they have no good reason not to. The internal consistency holds up after all.

Why they kept the canon rules about the soul (rather than crafting a retcon for it) is hinted at in Buffy and Angel's conversation during their fight. Angel talks about his guilt, but he also probes Buffy on her new found hatred: "Feels good, doesn't it? Feels simple." That was what his life used to be, and it's why Angelus could never be a main character, quite aside from his villain status - he has no internal conflict. Things aren't so simple for Angel anymore, and now that Buffy can't hate Angel, things won't be simple for her either. (Just wait 'til it gets really personal.)

I love this episode, in spite of its fumblings, in spite of ol' pre-skillz DB. This is where the show truly started. Everything that made Buffy special is in here: Giles, the Scoobies, Joyce, high school, flashy action sequences, big emotion, big twists, lots of vampires, and the real, unbreakable foundation of B/A. It's not just a joyride of shipper moments; it's good television.

Random notes:

• See Angel smirking after he says he doesn't snore? He knows it's the right answer. He might not be trying to manipulate Buffy but he's so damn good at it that he can't help congratulate himself when he's on a roll.

• ...And, forget what I said before. Actually the first thing I noticed in my rewatch is that Buffy sleeps on a crocheted pillow. WTF. Does the daily imprint on her cheeks fade off immediately thanks to her Slayer healing?

• Hey so Giles has been researching the Three all night, which is awfully kind of him especially considering that Buffy couldn't have told him about them until this morning. WHAT'S UP PLOT HOLE HOW YA DOIN'.

• My theory is that "The Three" is a title, and that as soon as one dies, another is trained to take his place. There should be more by now. What do you think they're up to?

• Angel always looks confused when he looks at things.

• Angel senses someone's presence before he knows it's Darla. I call that a continuity nod.

• Hey, here's some wicked foreshadowing: "If you care about somebody, you can't change that just by killing them." This is also good times taken out of context. Gosh, I never even thought about that option! Thanks for the tip, Buffy.

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Tags: buffyverse, episode review, icons: btvs/ats

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