FEATURE: Angel - In The Dark
Previously on Angel: Tall, dark and forehead is now working in LA as a sort-of private detective, aided by Cordelia Chase and a half-demon called Doyle who has visions that offer clues for upcoming cases.
Beginning with one of the funniest cold opens ever (and yes I have typed the entire Spike-dubbed conversation below, just for you guys), Spike lands in Los Angeles on the quest to recover the Gem of Amarra after Buffy kicked the crap out of him back in Sunnydale. Oz has the Gem and has taken it straight to Angel for a nice mini Scoobies reunion. However, with the help of the sadistic vampire Marcus, Spike traps Angel and tortures him for the Gem's location and it's up to Oz, Cordelia and Doyle to save the day.
Oz slots into the LA set-up with ease, his natural lack of verbosity allowing for some comedy moments with the equally laconic Angel and a motormouth Cordelia in need of some Sunnydale news. Likewise, Spike's particular brand of nastiness is allowed to be let loose in this darker setting, employing a sadistic vampire with a talent for torture to extract the information about the ring from Angel. And any adversarial interplay between James Marsters and David Boreanaz is worth it. Spike continues to be the Wile E. Coyote of the Buffyverse at this stage and it's always fun to see it all go wrong for him.
The episode also takes advantage of the opportunity to play with the show's not-yet-settled dynamics as Angel becomes the one in trouble with Cordelia and Doyle the ones who need to save him. Their gentle joshing is the most adorable aspect of these early Angel episodes. It's fun to see them be the heroes, coming up with a successful plan to rescue Angel, even if they do inadvertently give the ring to freaky torture vampire.
The use of the Gem of Amarra in the episode crystallises much of what has already been said about the direction that Angel's arc will take in his own series as it is in the torturing scenes. Destroying it is necessary; no one vampire should have that amount of power, particularly one as vicious as Angelus is if he turns up again. As he says to Rachel, the woman he's helping, there's the easy fix (which is what taking the ring would be) or the difficult road.
For Angel, it's achieving some form of atonement for his previous life and it has to be the hard road. The idea of light and dark is weaved throughout the episode and, just as the Shanzu prophecy which will crop later reinforces, Angel has to walk "in the dark" before he can achieve that redemption.
I also love that Angel positions himself as a champion for the marginalised, the ones living in the dark of society, without the help that the "9-5" people get. As a show, Buffy was always concerned with those people, the ones the rest of society forgets are there or refuses to see. Angel gleefully picks up that mantle and runs with it, the big city hiding more adult fears within its shadows. It isn't hard to understand why these shows became so popular with the people who felt like they didn't fit in anywhere. They placed us front and centre, whether we were nerds, unpopular, lonely or scared.
And that very final scene, of Angel and Doyle sitting as the sun goes down, allows us to glimpse our heroic vampire's vulnerability too as he admits he was on the verge of confessing everything under torture. It might be just a throwaway line that also chucks in a your mom joke for good measure, but it's just a little effort towards humanising Angel and building his character.
Quote of the Week:
Spike [as Rachel]: How can I thank you, you mysterious black-clad hunk of a night thing?
Spike [as Angel]: No need, little lady. Your tears of gratitude are enough for me. You see, I was once a badass vampire, but love and a pesky curse defanged me and now, I'm just a big fluffy puppy with bad teeth.
[Rachel goes to touch Angel's hair]
Spike: No, not the hair! Never the hair.
Spike [as Rachel]: But there must be some way I can show my appreciation?
Spike [as Angel]: No helping those in need's my job and workin' up a load of sexual tension and prancing away like a magnificent poof is truly thanks enough.
Spike [as Rachel]: I understand... I have a nephew who's gay, so- [gasps]
Spike [as Angel]: Say no more. Evil's still afoot. And I'm almost out of that nancy-boy hair-gel I like so much. Quickly! To the Angel-mobile! Away!
Let's Get Trivial: This is Oz's only appearance on Angel and the episode marks the only time four original Buffy cast members are in the same episode together.
The Sunnydale Connection: This episode follows on from the events of The Harsh Light of Day in which Buffy gives Oz the Gem of Amarra to pass on to Angel.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Lonely Heart, here.