Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Angel"

Yet another one of my favourite Buffy episodes. This episode begins the Angel arc and is the real first episode of Angel, the spinoff Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt (who is listed as the writer of the episode) would bring us in 1999.

“Angel” like “The Pack” has so much of the Buffy I have come to know and love in it. Like “The Pack” and “Nightmares” “Angel” is an episode that shows that season one has a lot of the novelistic arcs that make Buffy so interesting to me novelistic arcs that have a lot of darkness, pain, and backstory in them.

There is a lot going on in “Angel”. This episode, in particular, really foregrounds the Master arc, the Angel arc, the Darla and Angel arc, and the Buffy and Angel arc. The Master arc: The Master sends “the Three” to take care of Buffy. They fail. In their “chivalrous” deaths they bring the Master “a little joy”. After the failure of the Three Darla convinces The Master to allow her to take care of the Master’s and his “family’s” slayer problem after “The Three” fail to kill Buffy thanks, in part, to Angel coming to the slayer’s aid in the teaser of the episode.

The Angel arc, Darla and Angel arc, and the Buffy and Angel arc intersect with the Master arc in several ways. We learn that Angel is a vampire at the end of Act One. We learn that Angel (Angelus, the one with the angelic face) was “turned” into a vampire by Darla (“I made him”, says Darla). We learn that Darla (Julie Benz) is some 400 years old (“my family goes back to the war of independence”) and that Angel is some 240 years old (“he told me he was older”, Buffy says). We learn that Angel and Darla had a long relationship with one another but that Angel no longer loves Darla (he used to love me but now hates me says Darla). We learn that Angel is, as the Master puts it, one of the most vicious vampire’s “I have ever known”. Angel admits to Buffy that he killed his own family and the friends of his family. We learn that Angel was “cursed” with a soul after he killed a young Romani girl. We will learn much more about all of this, including the curse, in the Buffyverse future (Buffy and in Angel)

Complicating Buffy’s Theodicy: Buffy is the slayer, the chosen one, who’s “calling” is to stand alone against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. For Xander (the Xander influenced once again by his jealousies, specifically his jealously of Angel) the issue is as clear as the difference between black and white, Buffy is the slayer, Angel is a vampire, Buffy has to kill Angel. But is Angel, as Buffy asks Giles, a “good vampire” or is Angel, as Giles puts it, not a person at all? After all, as Angel tells Buffy, he no longer has a “soul” or a “conscience”. Complicating the issue is the fact that Angel, while he may have lost his soul, hasn’t, since he arrived in America some “80” years ago, “fed” off of a human. Is this the first instance where the binary between good and evil begins to break down? Angel is a vampire but he is not “evil”.

The Battle at the Bronze: Darla sets things up so Angel will be blamed by Buffy and the Scoobies for trying to kill Joyce. The third act ends with Buffy about to kill Angel with a crossbow. The battle of the Bronze ends in romantic tragedy: Angel kills Darla with the arrow Buffy intentionally missed him with. The multiple meanings of objects.

Bringing the Romance and the Tragedy of Romance: “Angel” makes clear that Buffy and Angel are in love (they kiss for the first time in this episode in Buffy’s bedroom sending Angel into vamp face). Angel continues to lurk in the shadows making sure Buffy is safe. The episode concludes in pain, the pain of love and romance: Buffy and Angel discuss the reasons why their relationship won’t work and follow it up with their second kiss of the episode (Whedon once said that Angel is one hundred percent the wrong guy for Buffy and that she can’t get enough of him). The cross on Buffy’s neck burns Angel during their kiss symbolizing the pain of impossible love, especially the impossible love of Buffy and Angel. Joss and Company bring the pain of romance.

Mise-en-scene: Great use of sound: the eerie noises Joyce hears outside the house just before Darla appears at the door, the eerie swishy fast moving vampire sound, footsteps heard and seen on stairs, Angel’s disembodied voice at the Bronze. Great use of music: the eerie music heightens the horror as Joyce goes from door to door just before she lets Darla into the house. Great use of visuals: Darla’s eerie vamp face looking in the window of Buffy’s house just before she attacks Joyce blaming it on Angel, Angel coming out of the dark at the Bronze during the battle between him and Buffy, the strobe light effect at the Bronze. The sound, music, and visuals nicely ramp up the tensions in this episode.

Character: Giles does research from midnight until 6 am to uncover information about Angel. I love the fact that research is an important aspect to what the Scoobies do. Cordelia and Xander engage in verbal jabs (Xander to Cordy sarcastically: “that outfit doesn’t make you look like a hooker”). Xander is still jealous of Angel and it impacts his judgement. Cordy blames the fact that another student has on a dress like hers on “free trade agreements” that allow knockoffs into the US. Less than innocent Willow matter of factly squishes a cockroach with her shoe and shows it to Xander while they and Buffy are at the Bronze. Buffy, as Giles tells Joyce in response to her queries about Buffy’s problems in history, “lives very much in the now”. Angel is, according to Buffy, a “perfect gentleman”.

Vampire lore: When one becomes a vampire he or she has “no conscience, no remorse”. “Bullets”, as Darla says, can’t kill vampires, they just “hurt like hell”.

Fighting: Buffy’s fight with “the Three” is quite athletically done. It is a marked improvement on the fighting that has come before. Buffy continues to train with Giles. This time they train with crossbows. Buffy shows that she is quite proficient in the use of this old world weapon by flooring Giles.

Mothers and Daughters: Buffy lies to Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) about Angel telling her that Angel is tutoring her in history, a weak subject for Buffy.

Foreshadowing: Buffy over a Joyce who she believes might be dead and saying “Mom, mom, can you hear me”. Isn’t this eerily like the opening scene in the fifth season episode “The Body”? Are Xander and Cordy’s verbal sparrings indicative of love in bloom?

Female Gaze/Male Gaze: Angel takes off his shirt for the first time.

S&M: Darla telling Angel as he pushes her against the wall of his flat, “you’re hurting me, that’s good”. Buffy’s cross burning into Angel’s chest. All this is before Marti Noxon, who Whedon gives credit for the s&m of the second season.

Psychoanalysis: When Buffy and Angel kiss for the first time Angel goes vamp. Is this symbolic of Angel’s sexual attraction for Buffy?

Popular Culture: The Master says “with power comes great responsibility”, a reference to Spider-Man.

Trivial Pursuit: First visual of weird Xander dancing. First use of the phrase “fang gang”. First appearance of Angel’s tattoo. The pose Buffy assumes after she fells Giles with her crossbow is right out of Robin Hood particularly the Michael Curtiz film The Adventures of Robin Hood. Buffy uses the crossbow for the first time. First use of guns by a vampire. Darla tries to kill Buffy with two semi-automatic handguns.

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