Wesley has brought Angel a knife which is the only way to kill Kek demons. Kek demons are extinct. Cordelia is baking brownies, badly. She has trouble cutting them and tries the knife Wesley has brought. He tries to stop her, saying he's worried about the corrosive effect of her cooking on the blade. They begin fighting. Angel tries to break it up and accidently calls Wesley Doyle. Elsewhere, a brother and sister, Ryan and Stephanie, are fighting. Their mother breaks it up. When the children are put to bed, we see that their doors are padlocked.
Cordelia talks to Angel about Doyle. He admits to missing him and his guilt about his death. Cordelia tells him it wasn't his fault. She has a vision of Ryan. Angel and Wesley go to the house. They see a pajama clad Ryan apparently sleepwalking on to the street and about to be hit by a car. Angel saves him, but gets a slight scratch in the process. The parents come running out and while the father seems to want to get rid of Angel, the mother (Paige) invites him in when she realizes he is hurt. Paige talks to him, telling him they have recently moved to town. The father keeps trying to get him to leave, not too subtly. Wesley is snooping around outside and sees something suspicious. Angel learns the couple have recently come from Akron. He tells them his name, Angel Jones, and Paige gets excited because she collects angel figurines and believes angels are all around us. Paige invites him to dinner and he accepts. In the car, he tells Wesley Paige wants to talk but her husband keeps stopping her. Wesley reveals he found plakticine all around the foundation of the house, revealing someone in the house is possessed by a demon.
At the office, Cordelia researches the family and finds they were in Akron, Miami, and Baton Rouge. She says in each location there were disturbances and animal deaths. In Akron, a friend of the family disappeared. The plakticine is the excretion of an Ethros demon, a demon that goes in for mass murder. Lizzie Borden was possessed by one. Wesley will hunt for a priest who performs exorcisms. To discover which of the family is possessed, Angel brings brownies to dinner with a powder in them which will reveal the demon. The dinner is nice, with Angel joking with the kids about the brussel sprouts and how they all avoided eating them. The brownies are brought out. Stephanie takes a bite, doesn't like it, and hides the brownie in her napkin. Paige tries to make polite conversation about the brownies with Angel. The father takes a big bite and suddenly starts choking and coughing. Stephanie screams and Angel sees that Ryan is manifesting as a demon. He's the possessed one.
Angel tells them what he has done and what it means. Stephanie says Ryan is bad and has always been bad. Her father sends her away. Paige is angry at Angel, but her husband hopes Angel can help them. Angel calls Wesley, who has a name of a priest but has not yet located him. He tells Wesley to make a binding potion. He brings the parents and Ryan to his place. They place him in a bed and make a circle around it with the binding powder. Angel and Wesley go to find the priest and warn the others not to break the circle.
Angel struggles to enter the church with Wesley. They speak to a nun who recognizes Angel for what he is. They convince her they are on a mission of good, to exorcise a demon, and she tells them where the priest is - his grave. The priest died during an exorcism of an Ethros demon. She tells them the demon is smart and dangerous, more so than Angel. At the office, Ryan is pleading with his mother to come to him. At the church, Wesley is gathering the tools for the exorcism. Angel tells him it takes great mental strength and Wesley doesn't even have sales resistance (he owns two thighmasters). But Angel can't even hold a cross, so they don't have a choice. At the office, Wesley and Angel are just arriving. Wesley realizes how the priest died. An Ethros when exorcised immediately tries to enter another host, but it does so with such force the host body doesn't survive. As they go up in the elevator, Paige rushes to her son. The doors to the room slam shut on the father and Cordelia, Angel and Wesley can't get out of the elevators, and the possessed Ryan starts choking Paige to death. But they manage to break in in time and Wesley drives the demon deeper into the boy and they save Paige.
Cordelia discovers that an Ethros box can be used to trap the demon upon being exorcised. But an authentic box in made from 600 species of virgin wood and handcrafted by blind Tibetan monks. Angel sends Cordelia to Rick's Majick 'n Stuff to buy a box. Wesley begins the ritual and the demon reads his mind, playing on his fears. He talks of Wesley's incompetence and his failure as a watcher. He says Angel and Cordelia don't want him there. When Angel enters, he says Wesley plans to kill him, that Wesley is more frightened of Angel than of the demon. Wesley gets really angry and attacks the demon, but he breaks the circle and the demon attacks him. He stabs himself in the neck with his cross. Angel saves him. Meanwhile, Cordelia is at Rick's and he doesn't have an Ethros box. He does have a Shorshack box for $20 less. It's pieced together by mute Chinese nuns. It's smaller than an Ethros box.
Paige is patching up Wesley. She has brought Ryan's toys and there is a tremor and his marbles roll out and form the words "save me". The demon begins to speak in Doyle's voice and asks Angel why he couldn't save Doyle. Angel takes some cloth and wraps it around his hand. He picks up the cross and goes to exorcise the demon. Cordelia enters with the box, but doesn't have a chance to explain what it is to Angel. The demon tells Ryan's father that Angel let Doyle die as he will let Ryan die. The father sees the cross burning in Angel's hand. Angel begins the exorcism. It succeeds and the demon does enter the box. But the box breaks apart and the demon escapes.
They send the family home and start tracking the demon. They realize it used up a lot of energy escaping and would need to corporealize to recharge. Angel reasons it would go to the sea caves and he and Wesley head after it. In corporeal form they can kill it. In the caves, Angel assures Wesley he realizes Wesley doesn't mean to kill him, but that he will if he has to. They find the demon. It tells them it has corrupted thousands of souls and Wesley says he failed to get the boy's soul. The demon asks, what soul? Ryan and Stephanie are having hot chocolate. Ryan notes Stephanie has 9 marshmallows and he only has 7. The demon tells them that the most frightening thing in the world is nothing, and that's what he found in the boy. The boy had no conscience or humanity. The demon couldn't control him and never manifested until Angel brought him forth. He just watched as the boy destroyed everything around him, for no reason at all. He says being in the boy was the worst possible hell. Angel realizes the marbles saying "save me" were the demon. The demon tried to sleepwalk Ryan in front of the car the night Angel saved him. He was ready to die if it meant getting away from Ryan. Angel kills him.
At the house, the children are in bed. Ryan takes his father's lighter and then jams shut the door to his parents' bedroom. He sets a fire in Stephanie's room. But Angel arrives in time and breaks the window and takes Stephanie out. The fire department put out the fire and Kate is there, taking Ryan to social services. She tells his father he'll be able to speak to him in a day. Angel thanks her for coming. She nods to him, but doesn't speak. The father tells Angel he just wanted to protect Ryan, to keep his family together. Angel looks at Paige and Stephanie a few feet away and says he thinks he succeeded in keeping his family together. The father goes to Paige and Stephanie. Angel goes to the waiting Cordelia and Wesley.
How do you measure the quality of a tv show? One thing I look for is how many times the show surprises me. Tv shows tend to be pretty formulaic and after you've watched enough (around the time you're 5) you can pretty much predict what will happen. When one surprises you, that's good. This episode surprised me twice, and one of those surprises was a big one. Another measurement is how often the show adjusts a character so his actions fit the plot rather than having the plot grow naturally out of the characters and their interactions. On that scale, there was one glaring problem with this episode. So, when you add up the good and bad of this episode, you have more good than bad and a successful hour of tv.
Let me start with the problem so I can end on a high note. There really hasn't been much development of Wesley and we really don't know much about his early life. But suddenly introducing a domineering father reeked of plot convenience. This was a background detail that could easily have been introduced in an earlier episode. Wesley's remark about fathers not having to be monsters to terrify their families could just as easily been worked into Expecting. If that had been the case, I would be congratulating the show on some subtle foreshadowing. Instead, it was dumped into this episode simply to give the demon a way of intimidating Wesley. And, frankly, this just seemed to happen to beef up the scene and stretch out the script. And that is bad writing.
The first surprise was the dead priest. I was expecting the episode to play out like The Exorcist. I thought the priest would be the main character. That he would be unwilling to do the exorcism and Angel would have to talk him in to it, or he would fail at it and Angel would help him. Or he would be possessed by the demon and Angel would kill him. When the priest turned out to be dead, I half expected the nun to take on the job. When Wesley did, I expected Angel would save him and thus make up for his failure to save Doyle. You could argue that happened in a way, but it wasn't really the point of the episode. It was a large and detailed red herring.
The second surprise, and the bigger one, was learning the demon was not the real evil. I had expected something a lot more conventional, like discovering a second demon had possessed the little girl (she didn't finish her brownie) or that the first demon had immediately gone and possessed her. Or even that the whole family were demons and the boy was actually the only unpossessed one. But learning the boy was the real evil and that the demon, as evil as he was, actually feared and hated the evil of the boy, that was something. I'd call this the best plot point in the Buffy/Angel universe after the gypsy curse. It makes perfect sense, and it turns everything you've seen in the episode upside down.
Family was obviously a big theme this week. We have the father trying desperately to keep his family together. We have Wesley and hints of his overbearing father. We have Cordelia and her horribly undomestic mother with recipes handed down from the housekeeper. We have the squabbling of Ryan and Stephanie nicely paralleled in the opening scenes with the bickering between Wesley and Cordelia. Most importantly, we have Angel reminding the father that he still has a family who need him, Paige and Stephanie. And then Angel going to his family, Wesley and Cordelia. Ryan and Doyle are both lost - the demon draws a parallel between Angel and the father and the loss of Doyle and Ryan. But both the father and Angel have done what they can and the family that remains is still strong and united.
Another parallel between Angel and the father can be seen in his first impression of the father and the nun's first impression of him. The father's brooding presence and lack of friendliness makes Angel think he is possessed by a demon and evil. Actually, the father is striving desperately to protect his son and maintain his family. Angel's pain at entering the church and his vampiric demeanor make the nun think he is evil. But actually he is undertaking suffering (no fun for Angel to be around all those crosses) to help protect a child and a family. Both men have their virtuous suffering misinterpreted as evil.
Some quick final thoughts. I'm still confused as to whether the demon or the kid was taunting Wesley and Angel and which one tried to kill the mother. The episode seemed to say the demon only delivered the 'save me' message and everything else came from the kid. And that makes sense, since the demon really wanted out. But why would the kid bother fighting Angel and Wesley when the demon was actually restraining his evil activities. Wouldn't he want to be rid of the demon? The demon was trying to kill him? Or was he so evil himself that he just couldn't pass up the chance to inflict some pain? Once again, Cordelia comforts Angel. Despite all her failings, she is a people person. Did Angel make those brownies or did Cordelia? They can't be her original brownies, since he needed to add the powder to the recipe. If only they had listened to Stephanie, she points out Ryan was always bad. The demon possession didn't make him evil.
Lines of the week:
"The recipe was handed down to me from my mother, who got it from her housekeeper." - Cordelia with a slightly different twist on the family recipe.
"A father doesn't have to be possessed to terrorize his children." - Wesley saying a bit more than he intended.
"Yeah, he hides it well." - Stephanie and her father making some very trenchant comments about Angel.
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