A demon is singing I Will Survive. Cordelia is acting a scene and doing really well, but a 911 page calls her away. Wesley is winning at darts and flirting with a pretty girl, but he, too, is paged away. They and Angel are at a fitness club, he says a sacrifice is going to be held there by demons who love muscles and mirrors. A club employee challenges them, but is stunned when they get to a wall of mirrors and Angel has not reflection. He breaks the mirrors and behind them is the sacrifice. They kill the demons and free the victims, then leave.
At Cordelia's, they have a whiteboard set up and are keeping track of the demons they have slain and are wondering what Wolfram & Hart raised in To Shanshu in LA. Angel considers joining the fitness club, believing he will be human one day and will need to work out. Cordelia sneezes and they think she is having a vision. She sneezes again and then really has a vision. Meanwhile, Lindsey and Lilah are being very nice to Darla, who wants to see Angel again. She remembers he killed her. Wesley is trying to draw the demon Cordelia saw. Dennis the ghost tosses the research book he needs to him. Cordelia spots a picture immediately, it's a Prio Motu demon, a killer.
Wesley says he has a contact, Merl, who can help them. He says he's found a place that's a safe haven for demons and he has been meaning to take them there. We cut to the Karaoke bar which we saw in the first scene. A demon is singing. The demon we saw in the opening sequence runs the club, Caritas. He is anagogic, he can read your soul when you sing. Merl tells them where to find the demon. The anagogic wants Angel to sing but he won't. The demon tells him he's full of pride and ready for a fall.
Angel goes to find the Prio Motu. He encounters a pregnant woman running. The Prio Motu attacks him and he kills it. But the pregnant woman is angry. She tells him the demon was her protector, that he was going to champion her before the tribunal. She spurns his attempts at helping her and leaves. He returns to Cordelia's and tells them what happened. Wesley is shocked that the Prio Motu was good. He says Prio Motus are by nature hunters and killers and how could they expect one would suddenly change into a noble protector of the innocent. He realizes this applies exactly to Angel. Cordelia realizes she didn't feel fear when seeing her vision of the demon and that Angel was probably supposed to help him, not kill him. He leaves them to research the tribunal and goes to find the woman. He finds Merl and convinces him to tell him roughly where the Prio lived. He also learns there is a price on the woman's head, since her baby is supposed to become some important benevolent and the dark powers want it dead.
On a dark street, some youths walk toward a man getting into his car. He flees from them. He flees into the arms of a vampire. The youths, who are led by Gunn, save him and stake the vampire. They send him home. Angel appears and Gunn tells the others he will meet them later. Gunn says he has a place provided rent free by a landlord who appreciates his protecting the neighborhood. Angel explains he needs to find the lair of the Prio Motu. Gunn helps him find it. There they discover the demon's name was Kamal. Angel finds a talisman and asks Gunn to take it to Cordelia and Wesley since it may be a connection to the tribunal. A few minutes later, the pregnant woman appears and Angel tells her Kamal's mission is his now. She says they need the talisman for the tribunal, he admits he found it and sent it away. She's ready to leave without him, but when she opens the door a demon is there waiting for her. Angel kills it and they flee.
Gunn arrives at Cordelia's. At first they are reluctant to let him in, thinking he has a gun. When he explains he's Angel's friend, they let him enter and Cordelia erroneously thinks gun is a street tag - it's actually his last name. Acting aloof and rather threatening, Gunn scares them a bit, then lets them know he was guarding them when they were in hospital - in To Shanshu in LA - and he's just having some fun with them. The mood lightens and he gives them the talisman.
Angel takes the woman to an abandoned building which he seems to know from before. She explains that the tribunal is some kind of court and they could protect her. Angel says he'll take her to his friends, get the talisman, and protect her. Before he can demons arrive and he sends her to Cordelia's while he goes to fight them. When he gets to Cordelia's he finds she did not go there. Cordelia consoles him and says they all got cocky. He talks about having seen the light at the end of the tunnel, being so sure he would become human that he began to believe it had already happened. Wesley finds out what the talisman is. It's a token to be presented to the tribunal by the woman's champion. A fight to the death determines her survival. But they have no way of knowing where the tribunal will take place. Angel realizes the psychic demon is the only way to find out and goes to the club and sings, Mandy. The demon helps him, telling him where the tribunal will occur.
The woman is running through the streets. The tribunal appears magically. A knight advances upon her. Since she has no champion, the tribunal finds against her. But Angel appears just in time and they allow him to be her champion. He's given a horse and weapons. Although he strikes the first blow with his lance, on the second go he is knocked to the ground and this leads to a battle on foot. Angel is stabbed and knocked down. Thinking he is dead, the tribunal declares the woman lost. The evil knight goes to kill her but Angel gets up and cuts his head off. The woman and her child are placed under the protection of the tribunal until the child comes of age.
At Cordelia's, Angel takes down the whiteboard. It isn't about keeping score, but about doing the job one soul at a time. He goes to visit Faith in prison where she tells him about the fight one of the other girls picked with her and how she restrained herself from killing her and took a beating from the guards. He tells her about singing Mandy. They agree the road to redemption is a rocky one.
Mandy, I Will Survive - does it get any worse than this. Frankly, the TV14 rating (or maybe something higher) should be applied to a show which provides us with so much gratuitous bad music badly sung.
I loved the opening of this episode. Cordelia and Wesley are actually living their lives. She's acting (quite a bit better than we've seen her before) and he's playing darts in a bar and actually flirting with a girl. But when Angel calls they both know their priorities. It's interesting that in these opening scenes, they both accidently hurt someone - Cordelia when she slaps the actor in her scene (and it's not in the script) and Wesley when he throws the dart without looking and hits someone. This comically foreshadows the serious accidental hurt Angel commits, killing the champion of the pregnant woman. They are all mistakes, the result of acting within the moment and without thinking. Not unlike the way Faith used to live her life. Ending the episode with a visit to Faith and her story of controlling her rage in the prison was a nice way of rounding off this theme.
Angel's talk about the fitness club reveals a certain laxness of spirit which has crept in. He is thinking too much of his possible reward and not enough about the task at hand. The white board and its tally of demons slain is a symbol of ego and pride. When Angel takes it down at the end of the episode, he's being humble, recognizing that his tally really doesn't mean much and it isn't for him to judge when his task is finished. This message is reinforced the first time Angel goes to the club when the aura reading demon tells him he's ready for a fall - referencing his pride. But Angel isn't ready to listen yet.
The seminal moment in this episode is Angel telling Wesley and Cordelia that he killed an innocent. As they attempt to console him, they realize how like himself that innocent was and how easily the roles could have been reversed. But there is an even deeper parallel to the life of Faith who went over the line after killing an innocent in Bad Girls and aligned herself with the mayor. Angel takes the right path, striving to make amends for his error and not sinking into despair. But Angel has Wesley, Cordelia, and the song reading demon to help him accept what has happened. Faith was alone and it's fitting that he ends the episode by visiting Faith, realizing that her redemption requires having friends, even if only through a glass wall.
Wesley and Cordelia also recognizes their own guilt here and how their smugness has handicapped and limited them. Later, Gunn will look at their whiteboard and talk of them as a well oiled machine. That is the way they have been functioning - rotelike without bothering to think or consider. Wesley realizes he jumped to a conclusion about the demon discounting that he could possibly be good, even though he had the example of Angel before him. Cordelia realizes that her vision was subtler than she thought, that she didn't feel fear when seeing the demon and should have realized Angel was intended to help him. In both cases, they acted on first assumptions based on stereotypes and didn't bother to really think about the situation. Just as Angel did when he thought he saw a pregnant woman fleeing from the demon.
Just in case we miss the point of jumping to conclusions, it is further emphasized when we first see Gunn. The man he is about to save from a vampire thinks he is a mugger come to rob him and flees. But Gunn still saves his life. When Gunn later goes to see Cordelia and Wesley, they at first think he is an enemy and even when they allow him in they act afraid of him, judging him by his name (which they take for a street name) and his demeanor. Cordelia's humiliation here (she wonders why no one makes her shut up) makes it easier for her to console Angel when he arrives, searching for the absent woman. She recognizes that they all fell victim to pride, the feeling that they were easily overcoming their enemies and were invincible. Angel admits he had begun to think the same way and they both admit much hard work lies before them. And they reaffirm their commitment to the goal. Rather than giving in and falling into depression, they vow to keep on fighting. It's at this moment that Wesley finds out about the talisman and this leads to Angel singing at the club in the hope of finding the woman and the tribunal.
To compensate for his killing of Kamal, Angel must become the champion of the woman undertaking Kamal's mission. More importantly, to compensate for the sin of pride which led to that killing, Angel must demean himself - humiliating himself in order to save innocents. He must also reveal himself - making clear his true good nature. When the demon asks why he chose Mandy, he does so to understand Angel's motives as well as his nature. Does he wish to save the woman because he wants to save himself or does he want to save her because it is the right thing to do? His motivation is critical here since his chance at salvation depends upon the quality of his motives as much as it does upon the success of his actions. When he says he thinks Mandy is pretty, the demon is appeased. He realizes that no one who thinks that can be at heart bad. He accepts Angel's motives and tells him what he can. He also realizes that in making this admission, Angel is completing his ritual act of humiliation and doing penance for his killing of Kamal.
The final scene with Faith is a perfect counterpoint to Angel's opening scene. There, brimming with confidence he strides into the fitness club and easily slays the demons behind the mirrors. Here, he sits quietly before Faith, listening to her troubles, confessing his own, and agreeing with her about the hard path they both must take to redemption. The pride has been knocked out of him as we can see it has been knocked out of Faith.
Some quick final thoughts. When Angel lights the candle in Kamal's home, it seems to be a ritual for the dead, a candle lit before what looks like a shrine. I liked the way the pregnant woman was so pragmatic and so unimpressed by Angel. Angel's rendition of Mandy is almost as bad as Cordelia's acting in Eternity. I love the way the background of the tribunal scene has ordinary street activity going on. It's a perfect intrusion of the mystical into the mundane. Lindsey seems to have more than a casual interest in Darla. Will Lindsey/Darla form a modern day Angel/Darla tandem? Will Lindsey become a vampire? I was happy to see a brief appearance by ghost Dennis. I'm glad he hasn't been forgotten.
Lines of the week:
"That guy has horns."
"Steroids, not good for you." - Angel explaining the inexplicable to the health club employee.
"There are three things I don't do: tan, date, and sing in public." - Angel with a pretty good life philosophy.
"Oh lord. Will no one shut me up?" - Cordelia asking one of the big questions.
"But you know how you're not really good at anything." - Angel getting a confidence booster from the woman he is championing.
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