FEATURE: Angel - Rm W/A Vu
Previously on Angel: Cordelia is struggling to find herself in LA; her career is a non-starter and working for Angel doesn't exactly reap financial rewards. Not much is yet known about Doyle and Angel is still getting used to having people around him all the time.
Cordelia's tiny, messy apartment is a metaphor for how crappy her LA life is so far and when the exterminator not only leaves it covered in dead cockroaches, but in several live ones as well, she decides enough is enough and decamps to Angel's. He's naturally less than happy with this arrangement. Meanwhile, Doyle is approached by some demonic debt collectors. He manages to evade them momentarily and goes to Angel to help. Seeing a mutually beneficial arrangement is to be made, Angel agrees to help Doyle with his bailiffs if Doyle finds Cordelia an apartment. It's all going swimmingly until that apartment turns out to be haunted.
Having gone through some, shall we say, interesting living arrangements in my time, my already deep love of this episode is now combined with a kind of empathy with Cordelia. Granted, none of my places were strictly haunted, but there certainly dwelt in them creatures of odd backgrounds and habits. Continuing with the monster as metaphor here, Rm W/A Vu deals with that struggle to find somewhere to live, something which seems like a factor you can put up with until it starts to affect the rest of your life. For Cordelia, it represents everything that she's lost and finding the pretty little apartment with its view and its nice, tiled fireplace, it's a sign that she's starting to get her life back together.
The move to LA has proven to be one of the best things that the writers could've done for Cordelia; she was always a little too big for Sunnydale and they would have quickly run out of things for her to do there other than repeat her bitch phase at UC Sunnydale. Bringing her to LA, reducing her confidence and landing her in less than savoury circumstances gives them a chance to get the audience on her side. We've always known she has layers (she does well on standardised tests, after all), but now we get them peeled away and explored more fully.
This episode is all about her getting her groove back, the ghost attempting to decrease her self-worth so much that committing suicide seems like an easy way out. Of course, Mrs Pearson (played by the wonderful Beth Grant) didn't reckon on meeting the meanest girl in Sunnydale High. Who doesn't give a cheer when she says "the bitch is back?" Yet prior to that, the episode makes it clear that Cordelia has her own redemptive arc, similar but on a smaller scale to her vampiric boss'. She feels the need to atone for the hurt she caused during high school and to rediscover a more positive purpose that chimes well with working for Angel Investigations.
The focus on the sidekick characters of Angel is really the episode's strength because, whilst we have got the redemptive arc of Angel all sorted, the others have been neglected a little as the show has been finding its feet. Cordelia may be the focus here, but there's some quiet development going on with Doyle and his debt-collecting sub-plot. It's a further glimpse into the ragged, dangerous lifestyle he's been leading, something Angel perhaps offers a way out of with his higher purpose. As the vampire detective ominously warns, Doyle's kind of lifestyle doesn't tend to last too long. It's the kind of foreshadowing that
Buffy has always been so good at and it's laying the foundations for one of the saddest yet brilliant episodes in Angel's run. (Just to warn you, that episode ruins me.) The haunted apartment premise also allows writer Jane Espenson and director Scott McGinnis to hark back to some classic horror, as well as a few not-so classic nods too. Phantom Dennis' face looming through the wall has more than a hint of The Frighteners about it whilst his battles with his mom about the girls he likes is a little Norman Bates.
Alas, this is a rewritten Psycho in which Norma sort of wins, at least for a little while, but built on that same kind of misogyny. Mrs Pearson's brand of benign evil is nicely creepy and I always love the moment she stops getting all poltergeisty to yell at someone for breaking a tile in the fireplace. And Phantom Dennis is one of Angel's best ancillary characters, one which I would have loved to have seen more of than we did.
Angel is still bobbing between the character driven episodes like this one and the more detective procedural angle that the show was still aiming for, but Rm W/A Vu is perhaps one of the best examples of the former. It gives Cordelia further motivation and development than simply needing to leave Sunnydale to make something of herself whilst also starting to shade in the background in Doyle's troubled life. It also helps that it's wickedly funny.
Quote of the Week:
Angel: Yeah, it's haunted.
Cordelia: It's rent-controlled!
Inventive Kill: Mrs Pearson bricks her son up into a partition wall so he doesn't run off with his girlfriend.
Let's Get Trivial: This is often cited by Charisma Carpenter as one of her favourite episodes.
LA Who's Who: You may recognise Beth Grant from Donnie Darko: "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion."
You can read Becky's look at previous episode I Fall to Pieces here.