Angel is going through the cushions, picking up change ($1.83 worth) and putting it in a piggy bank which he then locks in the safe. It's the Connor fund. Fred is working on a web site for Angel Investigations. He wants it to be tasteful. Cordelia makes him promise he won't forget their mission to help the helpless while he works to raise money for Connor. Gunn and Wesley arrive and say they've posted 6000 flyers. Fred says they've gone live. They all gather, waiting for the phone to ring. Cut to a man running through the rain, being pursued by some ominous, demonic being. He stumbles across a flyer for Angel Investigations. He finds a phone booth and dials the number. The phone rings, rings again, yet at the hotel we hear nothing. A man answers the phone and says 'Fabrizio's Pizza'. Fred picks up a flyer and asks if it is the right phone number.
The next morning, Wesley returns after posting 6000 new flyers. Gunn is in the office, staring at Fred with the baby. Wesley stares at her, too. Gunn calls her a hot mama. Angel comes in and says making money is their number one priority. He asks Lorne to use his contacts to get a lead on Holtz, saying finding out about him is their number one priority. Gunn starts to talk and Angel corrects himself, saying finding Holtz and making money are the two number one priorities. Cordelia walks by and clears her throat and he says helping the helpless, finding Holtz, and making money are our three number one priorities. Cordelia sees there are hits on their web site and the phones start ringing.
Holtz is talking to Justine, who is seated as he walks around. He says she disobeyed his orders, killing vampires he ordered her to leave alone. He says he wants to see if she has the commitment for the work at hand. She asks if that's a joke. We see he has nailed her hand to the table with a screwdriver. He tells her she can remove it anytime she wants. But if she's still there when he returns, they can discuss their partnership.
The office is teeming with people and demons seeking help. Lorne is talking to the Nahdrahs, demons who speak in a weird clicking language. They want Wesley, having read an article of his and being impressed. Gunn has a female client whom he takes into the office for privacy. Cordelia says they are stretched thin. She asks Angel to handle the phones and he gets a customer. Gunn's client tells him she is being stalked by her dead exboyfriend, Brian. Wesley, via Lorne, is telling the Nahdrahs about his current article. Lorne says they want his head. He's rusty with the language and upon talking to them again says they want Wesley to solve a puzzle for their prince, a sort of birthday honour. Fred notes the design on their tunics has to do with primes. They are impressed and run off. Gunn asks Wesley for assistance. Angel hands Connor to Cordelia and runs off to see his client.
Angel arrives at his client's office. The client, Harlan Elster, says a gang of vampires is living nearby and shaking down local businesses for protection money. He offers Angel $10,000 to wipe out the nest. He writes a cheque for $5000, the rest after the nest is destroyed. Angel takes the cheque and leaves. The real Elster walks in and confronts the impostor who punches him.
Holtz returns to find Justine still there, her hand screwdrivered to the table. He tells her he wants her to go out and find other people like them. He removes the screwdriver and gives her a bandage. She puts on the bandage and punches him.
Angel returns to the office to show them the cheque. But Wesley and Gunn are out. Cordelia thinks they shouldn't all be out working like this. Lorne comes in, drunk. He's been drinking firewater - his informant demons use it, they actually set it on fire and a bong is involved. He tells Angel that Holtz has poisoned his grappler demons and is recruiting humans. The Nahdrah return and say they want Fred. She impressed them and they think she can solve the puzzle. Angel says he'll have to send Lorne to translate and it will be expensive. The Nahdrah open a briefcase with $50,000. Angel accepts.
Wesley and Gunn are with their client. She tells them Fred said they inspired confidence and she agrees. She shows them a picture of Brian. She says she doesn't understand why he is hanging around. She talks longingly of their relationship and it's clear Wesley and Gunn are each thinking of Fred. While they talk, Brian tries to break in. He's clearly a zombie.
Lorne and Fred arrive at the Nahdrah yacht. The Nahdrah take their picture and show them the puzzle. Fred starts working on it. They offer them eyeball and insect hors d'oeuvres. Meanwhile, Angel enters the vampire nest. A vampire arrives and after a struggle Angel stakes him. Then two more enter. Cut to Angel returning to Elster's office. The real Elster, a bit beat up as is Angel, is there. He tells Angel he was duped and the cheque is worthless. He says the impostor was an exemployee, Sam Ryan. He fired Ryan who he claims was unbalanced after the death of his friend. He says Ryan kept asking him for money to hire someone to clean out a nest of vampires. He says the vampires were supposed to be guarding a treasure and that intrigues Angel.
Fred is progressing with the puzzle. Lorne is feeling ill, from drinking, and goes looking for the bathroom. He stumbles upon the Nahdrah talking to their prince. They intend to cut off Fred's head and sew it onto his body. He goes to warn her but a Nahdrah comes up behind him and knocks him out. Cordelia is trying to float, but she can't. She talks to the baby about her visions, becoming part demon, and how Angel is a champion.
Ryan enters the vampire nest. He picks up a watch and Angel, who has been hiding there, grabs it from him. But the watch is just a cheap Timex. It belonged to Ryan's dead friend and he just wanted it back. Angel says he didn't kill 3 vampires for nothing. Ryan says there were 7 vampires. They hear a noise and realize the remaining 4 vampires have arrived. Cordelia is still talking to the baby. She has a vision of Fred being beheaded by the Nahdrah.
Allie is wondering how long it will be, she has plans. Wesley and Gunn say they've secured the house, but a crash reminds them of the skylight in the kitchen left unblocked. Brian runs in shouting for Allie. Wesley and Gunn fight with him and then rush Allie into the bedroom. Cordelia can't contact Wesley, Gunn, or Angel so she decides to take the money to the marina, return it, and explain it was all a mistake. Meanwhile, Wesley and Gunn are barricading the bedroom door. Brian asks who they are and they explain they are there to protect her. He's relieved they're not dating her. She says that's why she broke up with him, he was suffocating her. Brian sits on the sofa and pouts. Allie goes out and berates him. We learn she actually killed him but he's willing to forgive her if she'll date him again. She agrees and Wesley asks if it will be cash or charge.
Ryan is holding the door closed against the vampires. Angel refuses to help him unless he is paid. He does help hold the door and queries Ryan about his resources. Unfortunately, Ryan owes money on his car, rents, is out of a job, and has no credit. Cut to Fred finishing the puzzle. The Nahdrah take her to their prince, Lorne is tied up on the floor. They strap her into a chair and prepare to cut off her head. Cordelia arrives. She tries to give them back the money. Lorne translates for her, adding that they are surrounded by warriors. But when he asks Cordelia where Angel, Wesley, and Gunn are she points out they aren't there.
The vampires are going to break in. Angel wants to escape, but Ryan insists on staying. While ranting about not being paid, Angel destroys the vampires (although one seems to run away). He walks off with Ryan thanking him and his voice mail going off.
Cordelia tries to kick one of the Nahdrah in its groin, but it seems to have some metal protective cup. She falls backward, through some curtains, and Wesley and Gunn catch her and move into the room. They start fighting the demons. Fred screams and they hurl the suitcase at the prince. It knocks off his head and falls to the floor, breaking open and the money scattering. They think the death of the prince has defeated the rest of the Nahdrah. But the remaining demons are just angrier. Angel comes through the ceiling and with his help they defeat the demons.
Angel apologizes to Cordelia, saying he should have listened to her. He tells them all that money isn't as important as family and the mission. He says he just never had another life wholly dependent on him before. Cordelia says they earned the money and the gang take the $50,000. Later, at the hotel, Cordelia and Angel are lying down with the baby between them. She wants to use some of the money to get a boat. He's more interested in a college fund. She agrees to the college fund and suggests renting a ski condo. Angel agrees. They fall asleep talking about snow, fun, and chipmunk robots on ice.
Whenever you watch an episode like this one, you should ask yourself a couple of questions. Did any of the events in this episode surprise you? And if they didn't, was it because the characters acted in a way consistent with their past development, or because the script worked the way standard tv scripts always work. Unfortunately, this week, the answer to those questions is no and the latter.
There are three storylines here: the zombie boyfriend, the vampire nest, and the demons in search of a head. Encircling them all was the Angel puts money above the mission theme with a side order of what's happening to Holtz. While the Holtz stuff was interesting, the rest could have been phoned in. Let's start with the least of the evils: the zombie boyfriend. Now, I'm pretty slow, so it wasn't until Brian actually appeared and tried to talk to Allie that I realized what would happen. It was clear she and Brian would reunite. A couple of observations led to this conclusion. One, Brian was actually engaging in dialogue with Allie who didn't seem frightened by him. A woman ready to debate dating issues with a zombie is willing to date one. Two, Wesley and Gunn had no plan to destroy the zombie. No mention was made of ways to destroy zombies. Instead, they just kept barricading the place - a pretty ineffective plan. This meant the story had to be resolved in another manner. The most obvious (and ironic) one is the reunion of Allie and zombie Brian. A bit more entertaining might have been Allie destroying the zombie and refusing to pay or, possibly, actually bringing charges against Allie for killing Brian (something hinted at but completely ignored). This, also, would have led to no fee.
Now, the minute Angel walked into that office and was offered more money than the vampires were supposedly asking for to clear out the nest, I knew something was up. And when we discovered that the man in the office wasn't who he claimed to be, I suspected Angel would end up with a bad check and a nonjob. I was hoping this would be some ploy of Holtz or Wolfram & Hart. Something to get Angel in trouble. Or maybe an angry vampire gang attempting to lure him into an ambush. Instead, it turned out to be exactly what it appeared to be on the surface. And, of course, we all knew Angel would save the man and it was obvious his motive was pure (as soon as his exboss mentioned the death of his friend). Now, it struck me that the 'friend' was actually a gay partner (why else the reluctance to give up a cheap watch because it was the first gift given to him by his 'friend'). But they went nowhere with that storyline. Nor did the man seem to serve any purpose - at the end I thought he might help Angel with his voice mail or show up to fight the head hunting demons. But he just vanished. He was just a way to get Angel out of the office just as the zombie was a way to get Wesley and Gunn out.
Which leads us to Fred and the head hunters - the central story and the one which should have been most interesting. Unfortunately, it was also the one most obvious. The minute Lorne notes that his translation is spotty and that they are expressing an interest in Wesley's and later Fred's head, I knew they were really looking for the head. When Lorne wandered off by himself, I knew he would be captured. I knew Fred solving the puzzle would lead to attempted decapitation. I also knew that Cordelia would show up alone, that Wesley and Gunn would arrive in the nick of time (actually, I wasn't sure it would just be them, but when it was I also knew there would be another nick of time for Angel to arrive in). And, of course, I knew they would take the money. Basically, this story followed a plot template so basic and so obvious I'm betting there are software packages which include it. Everything was crudely foreshadowed (Lorne several times mentions his problems with translation and talks about their interest in heads and Cordelia uses the baby as a device to let us know she has left voice mail - something which could have been more subtlely dealt with by just having the vampire guy mention it as he did).
The overall theme, money vs mission, was even a greater disappointment. The gang spread thin obviously endangers Fred. The desire to take jobs which pay has them walking into situations underprepared. This happens in each scenario. The first time it is played for laughs (zombie), the second it is a mixture of humour and action (vampire nest), and the third time it drives home the message with the obvious moral (Fred the head).
Of course, there were other, smaller, examples. Surely, we all knew the phone wasn't going to ring in the opening scene and the phone number on the flyers would be incorrect. We knew, as soon as Lorne wandered off, that he would uncover the horrible secret and also that he would get knocked out and tied up. I will give the writers credit for one thing. I fully expected a new found demonic power on Cordelia's part to save the day. They sure hinted at it strongly enough (all that talk to the baby about her demonic powers). I guess they felt that was a red herring which would make us forget just how obvious the conclusion actually was. Of course, it also pointed out another weak bit of writing, using the baby as a way to explain what is happening. People talking to the baby is already getting tiring.
Lying together, kind of dozing, talking about boats and skiing, that sure sounds romantic to me. The whole Angel/Cordelia relationship seems to have taken a big step without anyone really noticing. Plus, now it seems we will have Gunn and Wesley duking it out for Fred - who apparently doesn't notice either of them. Okay, I trust the writers to make an Angel/Cordelia relationship as interesting as Buffy/Spike (and it's almost identical - Buffy dies and comes back not quite human, Cordelia almost dies and comes back not quite human and then both get involved with a vampire). And I have faith they will not turn the Gunn/Wesley/Fred triangle into a sitcom. But you have to worry when the writers keep insisting on playing with fire. Eventually, you get burned.
Holtz is a little crazy. Which makes him very interesting. Generally, nailing your partner's hand to a table with a screwdriver is not considered good business practise or a strong method of team building. If this is the way Holtz treats people he likes, what does he plan for his enemies. And will Justine continue to go along with him. While she struck out at him in this episode, that doesn't mean she is ready to abandon him or his mission. Justine is clinging to Holtz because he's the only human contact she has. In some ways, she parallels Angel in the first season - yearning for yet fearful of human contact.
Some quick final thoughts. You have to love the way Angel quickly glances over his shoulder when dialing the combination for the safe. It was nice the way the British and well educated Wesley answered the phone 'may I help you' and the American and poorly educated Gunn answers 'can I help you'.
Lines of the week:
"Baby formula and kahlua, not as bad as it sounds." - Lorne implying he may have a drinking problem.
"Helping the helpless, finding Holtz, and making money are our three number one priorities." - Angel demonstrating a severe lack of math skills.
"Would a couple of light bulbs and some indoor plumbing kill you?" - Justine asking the kind of question we all have.
"Let's just say feeling something is better than feeling nothing." - Justine on masochism.
"I can't kill on deferment." - Angel explaining the hero business.
"I think that's your voice mail." - Ryan being helpful.
"Do these guys have groins?" - Cordelia pointing out the value of research.
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