Angel has moved to LA. He's hunting down vampires in that town and the show opens with him pretending to be drunk in a bar where a vampire gang are picking up some girls. In the alley, he saves the girls, staking the vampires. But when the girls talk to him, he shouts at them to get away and shows his vampire face. He also seems attracted to the blood one of the girls has on her face from being hit.
He gets home to discover a demon named Doyle has broken in (which at least proves he's not a vampire). Doyle knows everything about Angel and he has been sent by the powers that be, although he doesn't know what they are or what they want, to guide Angel. Maybe guide him to a point where he can have his soul and Buffy too. He tells Angel killing vampires is not enough, he has to help people, get involved. He gives Angel a name and an address, the name is Tina.
He tracks down Tina and discovers she's deathly afraid of someone named Russell. He goes to a party with her where he meets Cordelia, who has come to LA to be a star. She says things are going fine and soon leaves him to talk to important people. In the garage, Russell's people jump them and try to kidnap Tina, but Angel rescues her. He takes Tina to his place and tries to get some information on Russell and on some other girls Russell has known who have disappeared. Unfortunately, Tina comes to believe he is in league with Russell and runs away. Angel tries to pursue her but is stopped by the sunlight, but Tina sees his demon face. At her home, Russell is waiting for her. It turns out he is a vampire and he kills her.
Russell sees the video of the party and arranges to get Cordelia to come to his place, just for a snack. We learn he has a team of lawyers who make sure he's never even suspected of any of the crimes he has committed. Angel and Doyle break into his place that night. Angel saves Cordelia, but can't defeat Russell. He takes her back to his place, but realizes while Russell lives she's not safe. The next day he goes to the lawyer's office where Russell is having a meeting and pushes Russell out the window in broad daylight. He burns to ashes before hitting the ground. The lawyers take this pretty calmly and just call a meeting to discuss Angel's arrival.
Back at his place, Cordelia suggests he charge a fee for helping people - at least rich people who need help - and hire her as office manager. Realizing Cordelia is the innocent he can help, Angel agrees.
Warning: this paragraph has some small spoilers for the fourth season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Don't read it if you haven't seen the episode and don't want to be spoiled. When a producer has two shows on the air at the same time, you often wonder how he'll find the time to perform his writing duties on both. After all, producing an hour of television is no easy task. Well, Joss Whedon came up with an interesting solution to his problem of producing both Buffy and Angel, at least for the first episode of each this season. The structure of the two shows is virtually identical: the fish out of water hero wandering about lonely, the encounter with an innocent who then gets killed by what seems to be a major bad guy, an assault on the bad guy in which the hero fails to destroy him/her, the encounter with an old member of the gang who revitalizes the hero (Xander/Cordelia), a final triumph over the bad guy, and a conclusion suggesting some much badder guys lurking in the background. And just to make things fun, Buffy on her show gets a mysterious phone call where the caller hangs up. Angel on his, calls Buffy and hangs up when she answers without saying anything. Hey, I'm not complaining. Whedon definitely could have done worse, and for the most part both shows worked.
But on to Angel specifics. For me, there are two key scenes in this episode. The first is the scene in which Cordelia asks Russell what he wants her to do. It's pretty clear that she expects some play for pay type of proposition. This is a thoroughly beaten down Cordelia. She's lost all the money and nice things her parents were once able to provide (she confesses this to Russell and the speed at which this comes out suggests it is still uppermost in her mind). Her plan to go to LA and become a star (which no doubt sounded great, easy work good clothes) has been pretty much a failure. She's basically starving in a crummy apartment. At the party, she still acts like the old Cordelia, but she clearly isn't. She's lost everything else and she's ready to give up her self respect, something the old Cordelia would never do.
It's interesting how rapidly Cordelia reveals her fears, unhappiness, and lack of success to Russell. For this all to suddenly pour out is really unlike her and indicates how very lonely and desperate she has become. Cordelia, while often painfully honest, has always kept her feelings deeply hidden. But now she is facing failure for the first time and loneliness. She confesses she has no friends in LA. I think this is the saddest we have ever seen Cordelia. But even at her lowest point, she's still pretty bright. She quickly realizes that the heavy drapes and the absence of mirrors spell vampire. And she calls Russell on it. And then she realizes how dangerous that is.
When Angel bursts in to save Cordelia, he's saving her life and her soul - exactly what Doyle was talking about. She had hit bottom in life and was ready to sell herself to Russell, not a good time to die. But when she sees him, she realizes she's wrong, she does have a friend in LA. Maybe he's undead and 243 years old and Buffy's sort of boyfriend, but he is a friend. And he does save her. And Cordelia saves Angel. When he tracks down and kills Russell, in front of his lawyers, he does it not just to destroy a vampire but to save Cordelia. The negative nature of his life has suddenly become positive. And by giving her a job and letting her take over his management, he gives her a positive purpose in life.
Which leads us to the second scene I want to discuss, Angel confronting and killing Russell. Forget that he tracks him down in broad daylight or that he barges into a meeting room in an office tower in a suite belonging to a high priced law firm. Forget that he just walks in and out without anyone trying to stop him. Forget that windows like that are designed to withstand far greater forces than a man shoved against them. This was a fantastic scene. I love the way Russell talks to Angel, appealing to his good nature, his civilized self. He reminds me of the mayor, capable of talking morality while plotting the most terrible crimes. And Angel's response, his sudden violent thrust exposing Russell to the daylight (something his lawyer had threatened to do to Angel mere moments before) is unexpected and totally uncivilized. But Angel is the civilized man here and Russell the agent of chaos. Unfortunately, in Angel's LA, chaos is mistaken for civility and civilization for barbarity.
There were a lot of little points I liked in this episode. The agent trying to pick up Angel at the party. Doyle talking to Angel about having to let people into his heart and the next second yelling at a woman asking him for change. Doyle's admission that he, too, has something to atone for. The sad silent moment while Cordelia contemplates the food she smuggled out of the party. Cordelia's affirmation.
There were also some points I didn't like. The recapitulation of Angel's history (I know needed for new viewers but a bit boring for the rest of us), this could have been done in the credits the way Brimstone did. Doyle almost running away when Angel doesn't immediately return from Russell's place and then going back. I've seen that scene too many times for it to be fresh. But these are pretty small complaints for a premiere episode.
Line of the week:
"It's nice that she's grown as a person." - Angel commenting on Cordelia, who seems unchanged.
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