FEATURE: Angel - I Fall to Pieces
Previously on Angel: Angel Investigations is up and running, but Angel is still having a hard time asking people for money. He's built a foundation for a working relationship with Kate, a cop whose life he saved from a life-sucking sex demon.
As Cordelia's ongoing struggles with Angel Investigations' empty bank account deepen, a Doyle vision leads the gang to Melissa, a woman being stalked by a surgeon who has concocted a weird fantasy in which they're engaged. Angel uses his contact with Kate to get some background on the guy, Ronald Meltzer, a medical maverick who also happened to specialise in psychic surgery. The reason Melissa can always feel he's watching her? Because he is by detaching his eyeball and having it follow her around. As Cordelia would say, "bleurgh."
Both Buffy and Angel often look at the dangers of gender stereotypes and expectations, particularly when it comes to performative masculinity; Buffy has to deal with entitled jocks and scheming college douchebags, Angel gets to deal with stalkers believing they should have access to a woman's body, just because. Ronald Meltzer is a doctor and a brilliant one at that, but that alone doesn't convince Melissa to fall in love with him and, for her, their relationship ends after one date. However, he's not happy with that and uses his power to insert himself into every aspect of her life. As Kate says, the power of stalkers is in how completely they can take over their victims, even if they're locked up and far away.
It elevates I Fall To Pieces beyond a simple monster-of-the-week instalment into something skincrawlingly creepy, a place where even the victim's home is no longer a safe haven. The voyeuristic aspects with the floating eyeball alone are enough to give you goosebumps, but the episode escalates that further by having Meltzer's hands grope Melissa in bed. It taps in to a very real social anxiety for women, the knowledge that a lot of men out there don't regard your body as your own, but feel they have access to it. The episode draws its power from that and watching it in our contemporary context adds to the creepiness. We live in a world where stories from sites like Everyday Sexism demonstrate how sexual harassment continues to be normalised.
It's to the episode's credit that it managed to take a one-off character like Melissa and make her something more than just the victim of her present situation. In a scene with Doyle in her office, we find out she used to be into extreme sports, specifically bungee-jumping, but the anxiety that has arisen from the stalking has stopped her from doing anything. It's a brief moment and one that benefits from Doyle's terrible way with words ("Don't you worry. When Angel is finished with his case, I can guarantee you'll be wanting to jump off a bridge again..."), but it gives her a little dimension and emphasises the traumatic effect that this situation has on her. That sympathy is also crucial for the unsettling nature of the episode; we already feel awful for her by default, but the extra detail gives it a greater depth.
However, the episode does fall down a little for me when it comes to the main characters; Doyle and Cordelia aren't given much to do beyond their generic vision-having/administration roles and the episode only makes an oblique reference to the connections between Angel and Meltzer. Angelus, Angel's more entertaining but downright evil other half, was famous for stalking, often tormenting his victims as part of his games with them. This was seen overtly in Passion, but also in his relationship with Drusilla. It's clear from a couple of lines that Angel is drawing on his own experience in his psychological profiling of Meltzer, but it doesn't go nearly far enough in making these parallels explicit. Given Angel's quest for redemption, the ongoing arc of the entire series, it could have been another little step forward in him accepting and atoning for his past.
After the unevenness of Lonely Heart, the episode falls into its investigative procedural groove a little faster, demonstrating that Angel has improved his social skills from the pilot and can actually draw in potential victims from Doyle's visions without freaking them out further. However, it still doesn't feel like the show doesn't know what it wants to be just yet. The last three episodes saw it trying to pull away from the Buffy tether, but never quite succeeding. This week, it feels like a lost X-Files episode from the blend of supernatural and scientific to the way in which Cordy briefly Scullys Angel with a possible 'normal' explanation of hidden cameras and the like. Fortunately, it still retains enough of the Whedon/Greenwalt schtick to remain firmly in the Buffyverse.
Though isn't an Angel/Mulder/Scully investigation something we'd all love to see?
Quote of the Week:
Cordelia: What is stalking nowadays? Like, the third most popular sport amongst men?
Angel: Fourth after luge.
Inventive Kill: Angel disconnects Meltzer's head and then seals his body in separate boxes before depositing them at a building site where they get covered in concrete. Yum.
Let's Get Trivial: Often musical references are snuck into the Buffyverse and this episode finds Doyle repurposing lyrics from Funny Girl's 'People' to try and chat up Cordelia.
Demonology 101: Meltzer's lawyers are from Wolfram & Hart, another step towards the show integrating them into its landscape.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, In The Dark, here.