The gang have been brought before Cordelia for judgment. She expects a little groveling and when none is forth coming she yells off with their heads. But quickly says she's kidding. She sends everyone else out. She thinks the gang are going to run to hug her, but actually Wesley, Gunn, and Lorne run to the food and start gobbling it down. She explains about being stabbed with hot pokers and then made princess. Lorne realizes she had a vision. He says the covenant of Trombli, the priests who run the place, have a prophesy of one with pure sight who will claim the throne and restore the monarchy. They tell Cordelia about the book and the portal. She says the priests have books and Wesley wants to see them. Meanwhile, Angel has found a mirror and is staring at his reflection, upset at how his hair looks. Wesley wants him to take the host and look for a portal. He suggests they contact Landok and Lorne's family. Lorne isn't keen on talking to his family, but agrees since it seems the best way of getting back to Earth. Meanwhile, the priests are talking and not all are happy at a cow being princess. Their leader says if she survives the com-shuk, they can kill her.
Lorne and Angel arrive at Lorne's home. His mother is not happy to see him, spitting in his face. He asks about a portal, but she has nothing to say. Then Landok arrives and recognizes Angel, telling everyone he is a great hero. They are thrilled and say he has to come and tell the tale of his bravery and be honoured. Meanwhile, Wesley is puzzling his way through the books which he discovers are written in trionic - each book split into three. He is finding references to the cursed one and com-shuk and groosalugg. But he doesn't know what it means. Gunn thinks it sounds dirty. Wesley starts putting the books together and realizes the pictures on the covers are of Wolf, Ram, and Hart.
Angel is telling stories of his bravery (the destruction of the hand of the lawyer beast) to the people in the village square. Lorne calls him over and wants to leave. He realizes Angel is starting to believe the image the people of Pylea have of him. Landok comes over and asks him to tell another story. Then he says it is time for the bach-nal and Angel shall swing the crebbil. Lorne realizes what that means and tries to stop Angel.
Wesley is trying to convince Cordelia she should flee, but she wants to stay and be a princess. The priests enter and Wesley pretends Cordelia has had a vision of the groosalugg. They say it has been summoned from the scum pit for the com-shuk, which they explain is a mating ritual. She tries to leave, but the priests tell her she cannot go outside because of the rebels. They tell her they have doubled the guard. She sends them away and tells Wesley and Gunn they have to get out.
Angel is handed the crebbil, an ax. The girl who was captured when talking to Cordelia in Over the Rainbow is there and he's supposed to chop off her head. He doesn't want to. He removes the necklace and cloak they have put on him. He tries to free the girl and the crowd attacks. Lorne starts singing and this brings the crowd to its knees in agony. Angel gets to a horse and grabs the girl, but guards arrive before he can get to Lorne and he flees leaving Lorne to be captured.
Wesley, Gunn, and Cordelia are attempting an escape through the sewer system. Cordelia is carrying the crown jewels (a little memento of her reign). Wesley and Gunn get out, but before she can escape the priests show up with guards and take her to meet the groosalugg. Wesley and Gunn make it out of the palace and go looking for Angel. Angel is in the woods with the girl. She runs away and he follows her to a cave. She's writing on the walls. She doesn't want to talk to him because she thinks he's a figment of her imagination. He finds ID which identifies her as Fred, the girl in Cordelia's vision in Belonging. He convinces her he's real and she's even more upset because she knows bad things will happen to him. He tells her they can escape through a portal with his friends. He also tells her they made Cordelia a princess.
Cordelia is nervously babbling to her servants. The head priest announces the groosalugg. In walks a rather ugly demon followed by a handsome man - he's the groosalugg. Angel and Fred are out looking for Wesley and Gunn. A couple of guards on horseback discover them. Angel transforms into vampiric form, only it's not his normal vampire face. Instead, it's much uglier and more demonic looking. He catches one of the guards and kills him, actually eating part of him. The other flees. He approaches Fred, but senses something and rushes off. The groosalugg is telling his story to Cordelia. He's a demon, but clearly part cow. He's treated as deformed and horrible by his people. Cordelia sends all the others out. He tells her he tried to kill himself by attempting to vanquish monsters, but he always won. So they gave him the title groosalugg, the brave and undefeated. Guards enter with Lorne a prisoner. Not looking Cordelia tells them to deal with him but realizes who it is, pardons him and sends him out.
Wesley and Gunn are lost. They encounter the demon Angel who attacks them. Wesley recognizes him. Fred lures demon Angel away with a blood soaked hand. Wesley realizes Angel's demon self has been totally sublimated on Pylea and for some reason he summoned it. Now it has taken complete control and what they saw was Angel's demon in its purest form. Suddenly, a gang of humans drop from the trees and surround them. Fred lures demon Angel back to her cave. He sees his demon reflection in the water and is stunned. He changes back to human and falls to the ground whimpering.
The groosalugg has finished telling the story of his adventures to Cordelia. She tells him she's not really a princess. She explains that she's an actress. He says she is a princess, the covenant has said so and she says it doesn't matter what they say. He says she can do much good. The priests are upset because Cordelia has called for parchment. She wants to make proclamations. They decide it is time to send the princess a message.
The human gang have Wesley and Gunn tied up. They are considering how to send a message to the princess. They think Wesley and Gunn are reconnaissance cows. Wesley says they are not and they can help get a message to the princess. He says they are friends of the princess. He shows them a picture of Cordelia. He says if they write a list of demands, he can deliver it. The leader agrees. He says to write a list of demands, shove it in their mouths, cut off their heads and display them outside the princess's window. Angel is finally talking. He tells Fred that now that his friends have seen the monster within him he can never go back. She says he can stay there.
Cordelia is busy writing proclamations. The priests enter with a large covered platter. They send the groosalugg away. They tell her she and the groosalugg are tools of the covenant and she has no real authority. That she will do what they say. To drive their point home, they remove the cover from the platter to reveal Lorne's severed head.
At the start of this episode, I wondered if I'd actually tuned into a sitcom spinoff of Angel. Then I began to dread writing my review because I realized I had nothing to say. Then 2 things happened:
These are things which will stay with us, or at least may. We all know Wesley and Gunn will survive, Cordelia will be okay, and Fred will probably get them all back home. Hey, she may be next season's new character replacing Kate. But Angel is really going to have to come to grips with what happened to him. His whole world view has been turned topsy-turvy.
In Belonging, Angel was clearly attracted by Lorne's description of his home dimension. A world where heroes ruled and things were simple. No moral complexities. And Angel was really loving it. He could walk in the sunshine. He was treated like a hero by the public. Kids were hanging around him listening to his stories (I loved the tale of destroying the hand of the lawyer beast - I don't suppose he told the stories of working with the lawyer beast or of the lawyer beast's own sufferings). Angel fell into the trap of simplicity. He oversimplified everything to make his life easier. And it did, for a while. Then he was faced with having to execute Fred. Now, it's really a simple thing to do. The rules of Pylea say kill her. It's legal and he's being honoured. He's killed lots of evil people and by Pylean standards she is evil. In Belonging, Lorne talked about not being able to joust because he could empathize with his opponent. Suddenly, Angel has the same problem. He empathizes with Fred. He knows she stole food because she was hungry. He knows she's just a helpless girl. He knows the laws may say kill her but the greater morality says save her. If he kills her, his life is simplified. Follow the laws and ignore morality. Be a hero. But he can't. He realizes his life can never be that simple. That he has to do what is right. He cannot be a hero in Pylea if that means doing things which are wrong. And it means every time he takes an action, he has to consider the moral rightness of that act. Angel will never be free to act without conscience again.
Everyone knows Angel is a vampire. Everyone knows there is a demon inside him. But we always saw that demon in a modified form. It was just a slightly uglier Angel. He could pretend it was a bad thing, but not a completely alien or horrible thing. Not a thing like the demons he fought and killed. It was a corruption of his good side. But the demon we see him turn into in Pylea is pure evil. It simply kills and it is out of control. It's truly ugly and there is nothing of Angel in it. He has to wonder if Buffy had seen this face, could she have loved him. Will his friends ever be able to talk to him again knowing the horror that lurks inside.
I've noticed in the past that Angel is vain, but that fact was used very well in this episode. We see him staring in the mirror and going on and on about his hair and how it looks. He can't focus on what Wesley is saying because he's so concerned about his appearance. He seems terribly concerned about his coat first wanting to find it before he goes out with Lorne and later when his coat is taken from him and he's worried about wire hangers. He looks in a mirror again when Landok and his friends have given him a cloak and is impressed with his appearance. But when confronted with the task of killing Fred, he removes the necklace and cloak they gave him. He's no longer concerned about his appearance. Fred is his salvation. She's saved him from the sin of pride which he was succumbing to. Even though he has a slight relapse in her cave admiring his reflection in the water. Later, she will save him from killing his friends and she will cause him to turn back from demon to human (when he sees his reflection in the water again). But that latter change is merely an external manifestation of a change which already occurred when Angel refused to kill her.
There is a nice parallel between the groosalugg and Angel. Cordelia expects the groosalugg to be a horrible monster, but he's a good looking human. He tells the story of his feats of bravery, yet he sees this as failure. He sees himself as horribly deformed and he actually went off on ventures in order to kill himself. He doesn't perceive himself as good looking or a hero. Angel is obsessed with his good looks, but is really a horrible monster inside. He loves telling the stories of his brave feats and gets completely carried away with the image of himself as a great hero.
Cordelia has had a tough time of it in the past couple of years. She was enslaved and almost blinded in Parting Gifts. She was impregnated with a demon in Expecting. She almost died in To Shanshu in LA. She was impregnated with an even more hideous demon in Epiphany. She was enslaved and tortured in Over the Rainbow. Not to mention the fact that she almost died from a wound she received when stumbling upon her boyfriend cheating on her. And, of course, she has to put up with those pesky visions. So you can't be too harsh on her when she has the chance to be a princess. Kidding about taking off their heads, wanting to stay in Pylea, wanting to take the crown jewels with her when she opted to leave - these are all pretty reasonable acts. And in the clinch, Cordelia does come through. She actually tries to use her authority to improve the lot of the people of Pylea.
Is Wolfram & Hart somehow connected to Pylea or are they simply everywhere? Are the priests their agents or their victims? Will the gang discover something on Pylea that will help them in the battle against Wolfram & Hart back on Earth? Is it possible Wolfram & Hart opened the portals in an attempt to lure Angel to Pylea so he would be out of the way while their plots matured on Earth? Or possibly because they thought he could be more easily converted to evil on Pylea? After all, he was seriously tempted and had he not had to make so major a decision (killing Fred) so quickly, maybe he would have been converted.
Some quick final thoughts. You've got to love the fact that music is a weapon in Pylea. Cordelia's off with their heads remark is the Alice in Wonderland citation which gives this episode its title. Did anyone really doubt the groosalugg would actually be handsome? I loved Fred's response to learning Cordelia had been made a princess.
Lines of the week:
"Your father was right, we ate the wrong son." - Lorne's mom on family problems.
"You're just a regular Hans Christian Tarantino." - Lorne critiquing Angel's narrative style.
"It's been a really long time since I've had a good com-shuk." - Cordelia on her personal life.
"Handsome man, saved me from the monsters." - Fred providing a concise summary of events.
"Bad things always happen here." - Fred on Pylean reality.
"Should I call them back, you can borrow the cuffs." - Lorne making the second handcuff reference in two weeks.
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