Angel - Birthday

Summary

Cordelia is doing her awards acceptance speech for Fred. They are scrubbing the floor, getting off the grime from the chaos of the last couple of episodes. Gunn walks in, masked and clearly using some heavy duty cleansers. He asks if Wesley is back and we're told he's at the store getting more heavy duty cleanser. Angel comes in with the baby and Cordelia wants to hold him but Angel says she's dirty. So she goes to wash up. When she leaves, Angel whispers to Fred 'does she know'. Wesley rushes in saying 'where is she'. Cordelia is taking some pills in the bathroom. When she comes out, there is a cake with candles and the gang are singing happy birthday to her. She blows out the candles, wishing for Jude Law, and is told there are presents. Angel lets her hold the baby. He gives her a small box with a present. The rest of the gang come in with big boxes. She tells Angel to take the baby, loudly. She has a vision of a girl being attacked by a demon. But before she can tell them all about it, she's hurled back by the force of the vision and falls unconscious to the floor. She awakens, only to find she's out of her body and the gang, unable to hear or see her, are gathered around her unconscious form.

Cordelia tries to get the gang's attention, but they cannot see or hear her. They say she's alive and carry her body to a couch. Fred picks up something which fell from Cordelia's pocket. Cordelia wonders whether this is some bizarre birthday present. Cordelia tries to tell them about the vision, but they can't hear. Lorne enters and walks right through her. She senses some presence in the room. Fred shows them what she found, a bottle of Seltrax pills. Wesley says they are a powerful migraine medication. Gunn wants to take her to a hospital, but Angel says that hasn't worked in the past. Lorne senses it is a mystical event. Fred says if Cordelia is taking so powerful a medication in secret, the visions must be hurting her even more than she lets on. Angel says there must be a mystical solution. He sends Fred and Gunn to Cordelia's (to which she objects). Wesley goes to do research, and Lorne takes the baby. Cordelia tries to leave a message, but she can't touch anything.

Fred and Gunn are at Cordelia's place where they are met by phantom Dennis and a birthday celebration from him. Fred introduces herself and they tell Dennis what happened. Cordelia is trying to get Wesley's attention. He's reading about astral projection, speculating Cordelia might be out of her body. She tries to read along with him. Fred is looking in Cordelia's medicine cabinet and feels something is wrong because it is ordinary. She tells Gunn to stop going through Cordelia's underwear drawer. She says if Cordelia was taking Seltrax, she'd expect to find other lesser medication in her home. But there's nothing. She thinks Dennis is protecting Cordelia. Gunn asks Dennis to help. Dennis pushes a box from under the bed. It's got prescription medications in it, some dating from a year ago.

Angel is talking to the comatose Cordelia. He tells her he's angry with her for not telling them about what she was going through. Cordelia says she's angry at being body jacked on her birthday. Lorne enters and tries to make contact with Cordelia. But he gets nothing although Cordelia tries to tell him about her vision. She's scared as she hears whispering. Angel tells Lorne he needs to find a way for Angel to contact the powers that be. Lorne says this isn't easy, but Angel isn't phrasing it as a request. Later, Angel falls asleep and Cordelia (learning from Wesley's books) takes over his body and writes 171 Oak on the wall (the address in her vision). A shadow enters the room and she's hurled from his body. Wesley comes in to find the somewhat dazed Angel. He says they've looked at the tests Fred found and Cordelia is dying. Wesley says he'll take over watching. There is a mystical wind. Skip, from That Vision Thing, appears.

She thinks Skip is death, but he introduces himself. He notes her astral form looks like her real form. He says she must be pretty self confident since most people have an idealized version of themselves as their astral form. He says she has to come with him or die. She agrees, if he'll tell the others about her vision. He says he can't, he's a guide not a messenger. She takes his hand. Fred is showing Angel the MRIs. They indicate Cordelia's brain has been pretty much destroyed by her visions. A beaten Lorne enters. His horn is damaged and his clothes torn. He can't talk about where he went and what happened because of a spell. But he can write about it and he does so for Angel who heads off to talk to the powers that be.

Skip has taken Cordelia to a mall, actually a construct of a mall like in The Matrix, a movie he loved. He says this is a message from the powers that be. He shows her a video of Doyle kissing her in Hero and passing on the visions. He says she wasn't supposed to have them. He says the powers that be have a handle on big things like life and death, but who you choose to love is free will. So Doyle's act was not part of their plan. He tells her the visions are an ancient powerful force not meant for humans. He introduces her to Tammy, a girl who had the visions in 1630. They wanted to burn her at the stake as a witch, but her last vision blew out the back of her head and killed her.

Angel falls into a pit, where the conduit to the powers that be are waiting for the champion. He asks the powers to take away Cordelia's visions, that she is suffering. The conduit (which is formless and invisible) hurls him across the room to see if he understands suffering. It says the powers owe nothing and will do nothing. In the mall, Skip shows a video of the party from City of, where Cordelia met Angel. He says had she not met Angel, she would have met a powerful talent agent. He says she's meant to be an incredibly successful and wealthy actress. Cordelia says that Angel needs her, needs her visions. He says if she reenters her body, she'll be in a coma until the next vision kills her. Skip takes her to the pit where Angel is still arguing with the conduit. Angel says Cordelia isn't strong enough to have the visions. He says she's a rich girl from Sunnydale who plays at being a superhero but who is weak. Cordelia asks Skip to take her away. They leave and Angel pleads with the conduit saying Cordelia is alone and possibly in pain. He says he's more afraid of her dying than she is.

Skip asks Cordelia if she's sure and she says she is. Skip says he's going to make her a star. Cut to Cordelia on the set of her hit show. Cut to the opening sequence of Cordelia's show, called Cordy. Cut to Cordelia walking off the set to applause at the end of the show. Her assistant, Nev, is trailing after her. She stops to sign autographs as he tells her about a breast cancer psa which she says she wants to do tomorrow. She knows she wants something which starts with hyper. Nev goes through an ice bath and an oxygen tent before she figures out it's the Hyperion hotel. He makes her a reservation. She arrives there and is fawned over by the desk clerk who is clearly in love with her. She is taken to the luxury suite (the hotel is now a really luxurious place) but insists on another, ordinary room. He lets her in and she starts peeling off the wallpaper. Underneath is the 171 Oak address she wrote. She goes to the address and meets Cynthia York there, a young girl who is a huge fan of hers. She wonders why Cordelia is in Reseda. Cordelia asks if anything bad has happened. Cynthia says her dad left them a couple of months ago. She shows her a pentagram she has drawn on the floor. She's doing a retrieval spell to bring back her dad. She says she spilled a diet coke on the book she was using and had to improvise a little. Cordelia thinks they should leave. The demon from her vision materializes.

Cordelia fights with the demon. Wesley (with one arm) and Gunn arrive. Gunn takes Cynthia out while Wesley fights the demon. Gunn returns and the two of them manage to slay it. He asks what she's doing in the house and she says something weird is happening to her. Cynthia comes in and sees the dead demon and says her mom will freak. Gunn packs the demon into his truck. Cordelia tells Wesley what led her to the house. He introduces Gunn and Gunn asks if it's true she and Wesley were once an item. She talks about the drooling kiss from Graduation Part 2 which she says she is trying to repress. Gunn lets slip that there are three Sunnydale folks in LA. Cordelia asks who the third is and Wesley takes her back to his place to see Angel. Angel has retreated into himself after the death of his friend Doyle and his getting the visions. He tells Wesley and Gunn about the visions and they act on them. Wesley warns her about what she'll see. Wesley says sometimes he sends them to save people he killed centuries earlier. He lets her into Angel's room where we see him lying on the floor talking to himself. He's half mad from the visions. Cordelia kisses him and the visions pass to her the way we saw them pass from Doyle to her.

She remembers everything. Everyone is frozen and Skip appears. Cordelia says the visions are hers. Skip says they had a deal. She agrees it was a fair deal, but it wasn't her. He says she's being noble and heroic like Russell Crow in Gladiator (a movie he didn't love), but humans cannot survive the visions. She says she knows her purpose and it includes the visions. She says he has to find a loophole. He says there is one, she can become part demon. He says it will be painful and the effects will be numerous and unpredictable. That she may never be able to lead a human life again. She tells him to do it.

Cordelia wakes screaming in agony. The gang rush in and Angel hugs her. She quickly checks to see if she has horns or a tail. She jumps out of bed, glad to be material again. Wesley starts asking about the vision, but she says it has been taken care of by a one armed guy and an actress. She says they have to deal with the vision she is having now. She describes it and the gang just stare at her. The camera pulls back as she finishes and we see she is floating in mid air.

Analysis

Maybe I'm suffering from memory loss in my old age, but I can't recall an Angel episode which focussed so much on one of the other characters. You have to wonder whether similar Wesley or Gunn episodes are in the works. This led to an interesting, but not great, episode.

One of the great things about shows in the Buffyverse is that they often focus on the negative aspects of being different, even when the difference essentially makes you a superhero. Buffy has done that this season with Willow (and pretty much always has done it with Buffy). Angel's problems are the central point of his series, but until now Cordelia has basically been getting a free ride. Yes, she had those headaches and occasionally was attacked via her visions (most recently in That Vision Thing), but that's a far cry from being given the choice between dying or becoming a demon. Best of all was that Cordelia has actually been seeing doctors and has known for a long time that her situation has been worsening. But she's kept all this from her friends, not wanting to add to their burden.

Angel, when pleading with the powers, says Cordelia isn't a champion, that she's too weak to be able to carry the load. But she's proven him wrong even before this episode begins. She's been quietly suffering to save others for a year. She's been hiding her problem (more or less) from her friends. She's been getting some seriously negative medical opinion and keeping it to herself. She's been doing all this because she wants her visions, she wants to help people. If that's not a champion, what is?

Angel's misunderstanding of the situation is made graphic when we go into the alternate reality where Cordy is a Mary Tyler Moore type star. Despite the fact that she's given the chance to enjoy the fame and success she wants, she's still a champion. She still seeks out the threatened girl and goes to save her. And she still chooses her visions, even at the cost of becoming a demon. And when we see Angel, he's reduced to a quivering maniac. Partly because of the impact of the visions (clearly he greatly underestimates the strength it takes to handle them) and partly because without Cordelia he lacked the contact with humanity he needed to stop him from going over the edge (Doyle warns him of this in City of). Angel is strong, but in a different way from Cordelia. He's not capable of carrying her burden any more than she is capable of carrying his.

Of course, the essence of being a champion is making a choice. We all have to play the cards we're dealt, but what if we get the option of a new deal from a stacked deck. Will we still stick with our hand, no matter how personally painful. Buffy faced that decision (most notably last season in The Gift). Angel faced it most recently in I Will Remember You. And Cordelia faces it this episode. She can have a long, successful, happy life doing what she always wanted to do or she can opt for a painful and possibly short life serving humanity. She hesitates, for a moment, but you know her ultimate decision is never in doubt. She admits the trade is a fair one, but she's not willing to make it. Since To Shanshu in LA, Cordelia has understood her destiny and realized that the sufferings of others far outweigh hers. Despite her apparent self interest and selfishness, she's been motivated by a desire to help others. So her decision here should come as no surprise. It's the product of three years of character development on this series. When Skip tells Cordelia that deep down we all know our purpose, we all have a connection to the powers that be, we know that her purpose will be to help people with her visions.

Turning Cordelia into a demon has both good and bad possibilities. The first good thing is that she won't have to fall over in pain every time she has a vision - we saw that in the final scene. But the bad thing is that her emerging demonic abilities may turn into a crutch for the writers. They can kill her off, then have her survive because of some previously unknown demon power. Similarly, they could back the whole gang into a corner and then have Cordelia save the day with some new power. This would remove drama from the show. Angel would become like Star Trek, a show with a handy reset button allowing the writers the easy way out. Of course, that hasn't happened yet and may not.

Skip acts as Cordelia's guide in this episode. He helps her make conscious the decision she made unconsciously a long time ago. When we first saw him, in That Vision Thing, he was a guard. But he functioned as a guide in that episode as well. In fighting Skip, who clearly was an agent of good, Angel made a conscious decision to put friendship and loyalty ahead of the role of champion. Of course, by doing so he becomes a purer and truer champion. Angel opted to allow evil into the world to save Cordelia. In this episode, Cordelia opts to sacrifice herself - thus balancing the scales - to stop evil. Not only has Skip guided both these heroes (and Fred clearly realizes Cordelia is a hero) to a true understanding of their role, but he's also brought them closer together. Both have sacrificed for the other.

If Doyle's love was what caused the visions to transfer to Cordelia (rather than Angel as in the alternative reality), then the transfer from Angel to Cordelia when she kisses him must be a result of her love for him. All of which makes me wonder whether Fred's analysis of the relationship between the two is correct. Are they two heroes drawn to one another? When Angel says he's more afraid of Cordelia dying than she is, is he confessing his love for her?

Gunn's right, Fred really is cool. Of course, she spent 5 years in a demon dimension where she was a slave and later a runaway living in a cave. So there probably isn't much that can phase her. But you've got to admire the easy going way she greats ghost Dennis and how she just accepts every bizarre phenomenon the gang throw at her.

Some quick final thoughts. Wesley says he lost his arm to a kungai demon. This was the demon he was pursuing (or at least thought he was pursuing) in Parting Gifts, the episode in which he first encounters Angel in LA and in which Cordelia first comes to grips with her visions. It's also one of the episodes in which Angel contacts the powers that be in order to save one of his comrades - just as he does this episode. I can accept Fred having mathematical and engineering expertise, but being able to read MRIs is a whole different kettle of fish. It just struck me that Gunn has had less sex in the past couple of seasons than Cordelia, Wesley, or Angel. That's really sad. It was nice to see the gang cleaning the hotel. A little nod to the daily realities of life, not unlike Buffy's plumbing and financial problems this season. It's interesting that Cordelia insists on doing the breast cancer psa as quickly as possible. Even as the rich and successful Cordy, she still has values. Lorne's torn horn looked incredibly fake. It looked like a papier mache horn (which it may well be). Generally, despite the relatively low budget, Buffyverse shows do a good job of maintaining the suspension of disbelief and this was an unfortunate lapse.

Lines of the week:

"Dirty people not touching the baby." - Angel being surprisingly anal about things.

"Jumping Judas on a unicycle." - Lorne doing a take as a modern day Perry White.

"Fred you, you are so cool." - Gunn being pretty honest.

"Deep down, we all know our purpose in this world." - Skip getting philosophical.

"My mom is gonna freak." - Cynthia with a firm grip on reality.

"It was an honour being your guide, Cordelia Chase." - Skip knowing a hero when he sees one.

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