Angel - The Ring

Summary

Cordelia has found a demon database on the web. She suggests a need for a demon dating base, Wesley fails to see the humour in this, they start quarreling, and Angel comes in to break them up when a customer enters - a man (Darin MacNamara) who looks like he's been beaten. He tells them his brother, Jack, was kidnapped by demons because of gambling debts, and they sent him a finger in a box. He says a bookie called Ernie was involved. Angel visits the bookie and bribes him for information about where Jack is. Meanwhile, Cordelia and Wesley check the database and find the demons who took Jack are called Howler demons. Angel finds the place where Jack is supposed to be and is attacked by two Howlers. He defeats them and they tell him Jack was sold. Someone is watching all this from the shadows. Angel goes to the place the Howler demons sent him to, it's some sort of fight club. He breaks in. People are betting on these fights, only the fighters are demons and the losing demon gets killed. Angel briefly talks to a woman. Angel spots Jack in the crowd, apparently free. He follows him and finds Darin as well. They've set him up. They use stun guns to knock him out and capture him.

He awakens in a cell with an uncommunicative demon. He's wearing a bracelet he can't take off with XXI inscribed on it. Jack comes in and tells them they are slaves and if they cross the red lines that encircle the cells and the fight ring, they will be destroyed - the bracelet is a magical guard. If they have 21 kills in the ring, the bracelet comes off and they are free. Angel says he won't kill, Jack says he'll be killed then. Cordelia and Wesley are worried Angel hasn't returned. They call Kate but she hasn't heard from him and doesn't seem concerned. And Darin isn't answering his phone. Wesley decides to visit the bookie.

The demons are being fed. A demon called Cribb steals food from one called Mellish. Angel makes him give it back. Mellish is angry at Angel, saying he's rocking the boat. Jack announces the matchups for that night. Mellish will fight Trepkos, the most successful fighter. One of the demons tries to escape and is disintegrated when he crosses the barrier. Jack assigns Angel to replace him in his bout against Baker. Meanwhile, Ernie the bookie is beating up someone who didn't pay up. Wesley shows up and demands to know about Angel. Ernie laughs at him. Wesley pulls out his crossbow, Ernie goes for his gun. Wesley fires, nailing Ernie's hand to the wall. He grabs the gun which falls from Ernie's hand and frees the man Ernie has been beating up. He then asks Ernie about Angel again while twisting the bolt painfully.

The woman Angel talked to earlier tells Darin she heard he has a soul. They wonder whether that will give him an edge in the fight. Meanwhile, Mellish is giving Angel advice on how to kill Baker, but he insists he won't kill anyone. The fight starts with Angel fighting defensively and not trying to hurt Baker. Outside, Cordelia and Wesley have arrived and they accost a couple getting out of a cab. Cordelia pretends they are detectives and convinces the couple that the club is about to be raided and that they should leave. They take the couple's tickets and use them to get in. They spot Darin and see Angel in the ring. Wesley knows something about the fights, he had heard rumours, and he understands how the bracelets work. Darin is fiddling with the bracelet from the disintegrated demon and puts it down for a moment. He signal to throw a knife into the ring. Baker picks it up and attacks Angel. Cut, Angel transforms into vampire form and kills Baker. The next fight is Trepkos and Mellish. Angel tries to convince them not to fight. He tells Trepkos he is giving him another way out. Trepkos says he'll kill Mellish quickly. He does. Leaving, Cordelia wants to contact the police, but Wesley points out they are probably in on it and if they aren't, MacNamara would destroy the evidence (kill the demons) if they raided the place. He says they need one of the bracelets to figure out how to unlock it. Cordelia hands over the one Darin had which she swiped.

Jack taunts Angel. But he gets too close to the barrier and Angel grabs him and pulls him into the cell area. He threatens to kill him if he doesn't free them. But none of the other demons will help him. Darin comes and Angel says if he doesn't free them, he'll kill Jack. Darin shoots and kills Jack, the guards use the stun guns to knock out Angel. He awakens in the office of the woman he met before, Lilah Morgan, a lawyer with Wolfram and Hart. She offers him a deal, his freedom for looking the other way when cases involving Wolfram and Hart come to his attention. He refuses and voluntarily goes back to the cell.

Wesley is trying to unlock the bracelet, using a variety of techniques most of which end in an explosion. Angel is returned to the cell and Darin tells him that his return won't make the others help him. Trepkos is amazed that he came back and Cribb thinks he's crazy. Darin says Angel will fight Trepkos next, and it's Trepkos's 21st fight.

Wesley is still working on the lock, he needs something strong but supple and thin enough to thread the lock. Cordelia suggests horsehair, she has some in her bracelet from her palomino Keanu (before the IRS took him away). It works. At the fight, Lilah puts $10,000 down on Trepkos. in the ring, Angel tells Trepkos that if he continues to fight and kill, he'll always be their slave, even if they take off the bracelet. Trepkos just says he'll kill Angel quickly. Angel says he won't let him. Meanwhile, Cordelia is wandering the corridors by the cells and tells a guard she's looking for the ladies' room. This distracts him so Wesley can sneak in. Wesley meets Cribb and tells him he has a key. Cribb steals the key. In the ring, Darin has some weapons tossed in to spice things up. Cribb frees himself, but goes to watch the fight as he hears the crowd chanting. Angel has Trepkos at his mercy, but refuses to kill him. Trepkos attacks him, but refuses to strike the death blow. Darin orders them both killed. Wesley points a gun at Darin and tells him to call them off. Darin refuses, but the demons led by Cribb now burst into the ring. They fight with the guards and Darin struggles with Wesley. The crowd flees, Cribb frees Angel. Wesley loses his struggle, but Cordelia saves him by knocking Darin into the ring. He tries to shoot Trepkos, but Angel stops him. Cribb puts a bracelet on him and they toss him out of the ring to be disintegrated. Wesley and Cordelia help Angel home while the other demons go off together.

Analysis

I never saw Fight Club. But I did see the Space Precinct episode about aliens being forced to fight in an illegal ring. And I saw the Martial Law episode about the same thing. So my expectations for this episode of Angel were pretty low. And I was blown away. Not so much by the main story line with its tale of demonic redemption, but by the appearance of Wolfram and Hart. At last Angel makes direct contact with this devilish agency and we realize they are taking moves to neutralize him.

Not that the demonic redemption story was weak. It was, from the point where Angel wakes up to find himself imprisoned, predictable. But so is every western ever made and that doesn't stop High Noon or Shane from being good. The first part of the story was not predictable. It starts out like most Angel episodes, with someone coming to him for help with a demonic problem. Angel then tracks down the demons involved and the situation starts to get complicated. Then it segued into his being captured and forced to fight and the battle for the loyalty of the other captured demons. And that's when it became predictable. Angel's pleas to the other demons to side with him. Their initial reluctance. His chance to just get out. The final confrontation. The turnaround of one of the hard cases. It all follows a well established formula. Even the mysterious woman whose involvement was obvious from her first meeting with Angel - you don't give dialogue to characters unless they are important.

Mellish is angry at Angel for making Cribb give him back his food. Obviously, Mellish feels this hurts his image, makes it look as if he needs Angel to protect him. Mellish tries to project a tough guy image, when he discovers he's fighting Trepkos he immediately confronts him. The enslaved demons never try to form any kind of bond or work together in any way. Instead, they put their faith in the promise of being released after 21 kills - but why believe Jack and Darin who are clearly liars? Also, given the anger we've seen from demons in the Buffy episode Goodbye, Iowa about demons killing demons, I'd expect more reluctance to get in the ring and kill one another. While Cribb and Trepkos eventually rebel, it doesn't happen until both are actually free, Cribb by stealing the key from Wesley and Trepkos by defeating Angel for his 21st victory.

Of course, despite Cordelia's comment at the end about saving and freeing the demons, we're meant to see the humans here - Jack, Darin, and the lawyer from Wolfram and Hart - as the real demons. They might not be in the database, but they are the ones doing evil. They kidnap people and make them kill one another. They practise slavery and bet on the death matches they force the slaves to fight with one another. And in case we miss the point, Darin is so evil that he kills his brother Jack without a second thought. Even Trepkos, who killed 20 demons in the ring, could not find it in himself to kill Angel.

Lilah tries to get Angel to sell out the other enslaved demons by pointing out that there are a lot of others for him to help and that he can't help them if he's imprisoned or dead. Angel implies this is the sort of logic that Wolfram and Hart uses to justify what it does, essentially making a deal with the devil. Lilah acts as if evil can be compartmentalized and that a little bit of evil in one area doesn't taint the good in other areas. Angel, obviously, doesn't agree. It's interesting that this is the approach Wolfram and Hart have taken to Angel, trying to seduce him (and the seduction seemed very close to getting physical in that scene). Why haven't they just tried to kill him? It shouldn't be all that hard given their resources. He's certainly cost them a lot of trouble and money. I suspect we'll find the answer to this when we meet Wolfram and Hart themselves.

In She, I complained about how Wesley was sometimes bumbling and sometimes incredibly skillful. That happened again this episode. Wesley can't even pick up his weapons without scattering them across the floor. But then he easily takes out the bookie and his bodyguards with a move worthy of Angel. Of course, Wesley's daring, and his willingness to torture Ernie, were supposed to demonstrate to us just how devoted to Angel he has become. But his moves were hard to believe. Especially since the angle of the crossbow shot seemed simply impossible to me.

The opening quarrel between Cordelia and Wesley about demon dating seemed suggestive to me. When Cordelia says Wesley doesn't have any social life and he speaks disapprovingly of heels and push up bras, you get the impression something subtle is going on between these two. Not unlike the relationship between Doyle and Cordelia. Only Cordelia has already dated Wesley and not really cared for it. But he has changed as has she. And when you add her comment about how many of her dates have looked like Howler demons with hair plugs, you get the impression she might be ready to try again.

Some quick final thoughts. Cordelia not only learnt how to type, but how to use the Internet. She really has grown as a person. And she understands what a single entendre is. How did Darin and Jack know about Angel. Was he set up by Wolfram and Hart? You've got to admire Cordelia and Wesley for the clever bluff they used to get in to the club. But how could Darin not notice a missing magical bracelet? And how come he never noticed Cordelia and Wesley in the crowd? In fact, why didn't he do something about Cordelia and Wesley, he must have realized they would look for Angel.

Lines of the week:

"Thinks he can get out of this by pulling a Gandhi." - Cribb taking a stand against nonviolence.

"Who do you think you are, Moses?" - Darin belittling Angel's attempt to free the slaves.

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