FEATURE: Angel - Hero
Previously on Angel: Buffy had been in town to confront Angel about Thanksgiving and leaves after about five minutes, but in this timeline, only Angel knows of an alternative path in which he became human and gave it all up to continue his battle with the forces of evil. Doyle has fancied Cordelia from the start, but is afraid that if she learns he's half demon, she'd reject him.
So after last week's episode full of pain and sacrifice and loss, we get Hero. An episode full of pain and sacrifice and loss. Doyle is finally nearing the courage to tell Cordelia that he is half demon when he has a vision of several half-human/half-demon refugees cowering in a dank basement. They're on the run from the Scourge, a gang of pure-blood demons who loathe "half-breeds" and seek their extermination. It's not the first time Doyle has had a run in with them and they prove to be his biggest test as he seeks his own brand of atonement.
When we have news stories of American states shutting down their borders to refugees forced to give up their homes and money for safe passage to another country and openly discriminatory people advocating ID cards are running for Presidential candidacy, Hero is one of those episodes whose poignancy has only grown with time. It's no coincidence that the Scourge run around in uniforms that wouldn't look out of place in the Third Reich; they're pure blood demons who have a real loathing of anyone with mixed human heritage. Prejudice is confronted on several levels; Doyle has to confront his own self-loathing for his demon half whilst Cordy has to break down her own misconceptions about demons built from her experiences in Sunnydale.
In 2002, Glenn Quinn died after an accidental heroin overdose, adding another layer of tragedy to any watches of this episode. During his short tenure on Angel, he crafted a character that fans fell in love with, creating a legacy in just nine episodes that is still talked about to this day. Quinn had an easy charm that he brought to deal and a clear, droll sense of humour that fit well within the realms of the Whedonverse comedy stylings.
Doyle getting Whedoned early in the season was part of the plan early on, which means that all of Doyle's loose narrative threads are wrapped up in this one episode. Cordelia learns of his half-demon blood and reacts with characteristic candour, admonishing him for not telling her and then asking him if he's ever going to ask her out for dinner. He never gets chance, instead kissing her before he dies and passing on his visions.
Earlier in the series, he told Angel that everyone has something to atone for and here, we learn what Doyle's particular event was. He was approached by a fellow Brachen demon seeking refuge from the Scourge and Doyle refused to help, knowing that he would be getting involved in something far bigger than he is. When he receives a vision of them all dead shortly after, he goes to their hiding place to find out if what he was shown was the truth. He finds them massacred. When the Scourge returns, he confesses all to Angel, but only realises what his test will be when the beacon is about to go off and will kill anyone in close range with human blood. Doyle jumps and succeeds, sacrificing his life in the process.
If I Will Remember You was the episode in which Angel finally and literally cast off Buffy, then Hero is the one that reinforces its darker and perhaps loftier ambitions. In my look at I Will Remember You, I talked about Angel's sacrifice and need for redemption, which has been the show's driving force from the start. To immediately follow the episode with the same themes could seem repetitive, but the show gets around that by having it as the story of Doyle's redemption. It's also an episode about the cost of fighting the good fight. Like Jesse back in Buffy's first episode or Jenny Calendar (at the hands of Angel himself, lest we forget) in the second season, the audience needs reminding of the high stakes involved in such a quest. Angel may get a happy ending, but there will be casualties along the way.
I'm of the opinion that Hero gets harder and harder to watch each time, but the coincidental relevance to ongoing news events gives it that extra layer of tragedy. It may have functioned as a simple Holocaust allegory back when it first aired, but now it's taken on whole new levels of meaning. I don't know anyone who can get through this episode without shedding a tear and if you can, well, you're more in control of your emotions than I am. It's certainly not an episode I enjoy revisiting, despite its brilliance.
Quote of the Week:
Doyle [in the Angel Investigations ad]: Come on over to our offices and you'll see that there's still heroes in this world... Is that it? Am I done?
LA Who's Who: Sean Gunn! Sean Gunn plays Lucas. And who is Sean Gunn? Brother of Guardians of the Galaxy director James and the real hero of Gilmore Girls, Kirk. He'll re-appear sans blue pin cushion face in the episode, She. There's also Lee Arenberg who goes on to play Pintel in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl alongside Mackenzie Crook's Ragetti.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, I Will Remember You, here.