Angel - Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Summary

A husband, wife, and son are trying to get their car started on a deserted night time street. Connor comes up and he frightens them. They are attacked by vampires disguised as auto repairmen and Connor rescues them, staking one vampire and burning the other with the car cigarette lighter.

Connor breaks into the hotel and sees Angel, Gunn, and Fred find Cordelia who has lost her memory. She doesn't remember them and she doesn't know who she is. Angel tells her her name and that she works with them. He sees Lorne in the garden and quickly says it might help Cordelia to remember if she saw some of her things. He sends Gunn into the garden to check for her things, where he hustles off Lorne, and he and Fred go into the office. Fred thinks they should tell Cordelia everything, but Angel wants to wait until she remembers who he is. As she watches them through the window, Fred and Angel wonder why she is back. When they see her, they give her a little wave. She thinks it's creepy as is the weapon she sees.

They come out to a nervous Cordelia. The phone rings and the machine gets it. Cordelia hears her voice on the machine and realizes she really does work there. The caller is Murray from the spa who starts talking about a demon. Fred quickly takes the call. Cordelia asks about the demon thing and Fred says it's an ugly divorce and she and Gunn should go down there and deal with it before it multiplies. She mimes to Angel a demon spawning little demons.

Cordelia says she wants to go home. Angel takes her to the room in the hotel where they are storing her stuff. He talks about the time they went to the ballet (Waiting in the Wings) and hints at what happened between them there. Cordelia makes it clear she wants to be alone and Angel leaves. Cordelia changes into more casual clothes and starts repeating her name, getting used to it. She starts going through the Sunnydale High yearbook and sees references to the school burning down, a giant snake, and flaming arrows. She starts looking through photos and critiquing her various hairstyle changes. She wonders if she is a spy. She sees a picture of herself, Angel, and baby Connor. She goes into the hall and hears singing. She passes Lorne's room and sees figures inside, Lorne has a customer. She dashes off before Lorne can discover her. His customer is someone he says has an addiction which will get him in trouble. She goes downstairs and hears something. She calls out, but no one answers. Angel is there, but he's trying to hide his blood supply. She finds blood on the counter. Fred and Gunn enter and she hides. They talk about destroying these disgusting little babies and she sees a bloody ax as Gunn picks brains off Fred's back. Cordelia leaps up, as Fred and Gunn try to explain she smashes into the weapons cabinet and the swords and axes fall out. She bumps into Angel, then rushes outside where she is attacked. The gang run out and help her fight off the attackers. She still has all her fighting moves. She says she is a spy. She thinks they are all Russians trying to convince her they are her friends to get information from her. Gunn asks if he looks Russian and she says black Russian. Angel says that's a drink. He says the attackers were from Wolfram & Hart. She starts talking about the baby killing, the pointy things, and the singing. Angel says it all seems bizarre but that she is at home there and she has to believe him. She says she does.

Back in her room, she's finally convinced she's not a spy. She asks if she's a mom and shows Angel the picture of Connor. He explains it's his son, but she's not his mother. She says then they weren't a happy family. He says not like that. She asks if he and Cordelia were together and he says not exactly. They seem about to kiss when she leaps back and asks if she was a nun and that's why they weren't together. She pulls out a handful of crosses she found and gives them to Angel. They burn him and cause him to put on his demon face. She screams and runs out.

She collides with Lorne and they both scream. Angel and the others arrive and separate them. She demands answers. Angel agrees to tell her everything. Everything pretty much stuns her. She figures she doesn't remember because who would want to. They say they can figure out what's happening if she'll sing. Lorne can read her and tell them what's up. She sings, horribly off key. Lorne gets noticeably upset and leaves. Angel goes after him. Cordelia stomps out and rebuffs Gunn and Fred. She says she wants to talk to Angel sans sidekicks.

Angel talks to Lorne who tells him he only got scrambled images, but it's bad. He asks if the phrase "slouching toward Bethlehem" rings a bell". He says evil is coming and it's planning on staying. Cut to Lilah and Wesley in bed together. Lilah tells him that her employers and Angel know about their affair. Wesley says he doesn't care what Angel thinks. Lilah says he talked that way before, but still saved Angel from his ocean grave. Wesley says that was different and he doesn't care if Angel knows about their relationship. Gleefully, Lilah says he owes her a dollar. He lost the bet and was the first to call it a relationship. He gets out a dollar and she tells him to sign it as proof.

Cordelia is walking through the halls of the hotel. She thinks Fred and Gunn are following her, but it's the creature which was in Lorne's room. It's a demon and it wants to eat her. Connor appears and knocks the demon down, saving her and telling her she's not safe there. He kills the demon. Cordelia asks him to get her out of there and he does.

Fred, Gunn, and Angel are standing over the dead demon. Angel wonders if this is the start of the slouching and the Bethlehem. Gunn and Fred are confused. Lorne enters and says bad things are on their way, but that the demon was just a client of his. Angel is worried about what might have happened to Cordelia. Cut to Cordelia and Connor at his hideout, where they are looking at a stuffed bear. Connor says he wishes he had killed it. Cordelia says that's an odd way to express your affection. She asks why he was at the hotel and he says he saw she was back and that she was nice to him once. She asks his name and when he answers she realizes he is Angel's son. She asks why he isn't living with the others. He tells her about sinking Angel and also about the time he tried to kill her. She thanks him for being honest with her

Lilah's phone rings. She goes into the other room to answer it and Wesley secretly listens in. He hears that Cordelia is with Connor and Wolfram & Hart are planning to take her from him. She looks back, but Wesley seems to be asleep. She hangs up and dresses. Wesley asks if she really has to go. She picks up her purse, knocking the dollar to the floor. She doesn't see it.

Connor is setting traps. Cordelia says she's trying to remember things about herself - her first kiss, favourite food, family. But there's nothing. He tells her she likes shoes and doughnuts and is very brave. He says she's very brave now. She says she has a feeling something terrible has happened or will happen but she doesn't know who to trust except Connor. She says she feels he has lost everything, too. He says he has nothing to lose.

At the hotel, Fred and Gunn are waiting for Angel to return from searching. He does and he hasn't found Cordelia. Wesley enters and says he knows where she is. They tell him Cordelia just showed up without a memory. He thinks the idea of a fresh start is interesting. He tells them she is with Connor. Angel is sure Connor will protect her. Cordelia and Connor are sleeping together. He puts his hand on her mouth, scaring her awake. He whispers someone is there. The extraction team from Wolfram & Hart break in and Connor's boobytraps spring into action. But there are lots of bad guys and soon Connor and Cordelia are fighting for their lives. One of the bad guys sets up a camera and Lilah watches the action remotely. Angel, Fred, and Gunn arrive and join the fight. One of the Wolfram & Hart team goes to Lilah and tells her it's done. She says she's going home and gives him a cryptic command. He orders his men to punt. They flee. Angel wants Cordelia to come back with him, but she wants to stay with Connor. She says Connor gave her what she needs, honesty. She says she knows the others were trying to help, but being honest is the only way to do that. Angel leaves her, telling Connor to keep her safe.

Wesley is at home, thinking. He sees the dollar bill on the floor and picks it up. Angel, Gunn, and Fred return to the hotel. Angel thinks maybe they should have been honest from the start with Cordelia. Fred and Gunn tell him he did the right thing. They hear a noise and go into the next room where they find Lorne tied up and beaten up. Wolfram & Hart came and stole his memories. They used a demon to bore into his mind. They got his vision of Cordelia. The attack at Connor's place was to get them out of the hotel and leave Lorne vulnerable. They're not sure whether Wesley was a dupe or working with Wolfram & Hart. But now Wolfram & Hart know as much or more about Cordelia's future as they do.

Wesley goes to see Lilah. He reveals that he knows she played him. She says she just did her job, he went and told Angel about what he heard. Free will. She says she could have killed Lorne, but let him live because he's a friend of Wesley's. He asks if that's supposed to make him trust her again. She says she would never have done it if she'd thought he would ever trust her. Cut to Connor watching over Cordelia. Cut to Angel alone.

Analysis

In baseball, batting 500 makes you an amazing player. You can't say the same about a tv show, but by managing two good episodes out of four Angel at least stops looking like a total failure. And this episode wasn't just good, in the sense of being not bad, it was great. It handled the issue of amnesia very well. It kept surprising me with the twists the characters took - but they always remained in character. And it did something terrific with the Lilah/Wesley relationship which has become the one consistently strong point in the series so far in this young season.

You walk into a place and you haven't a clue who anyone else is or who you are. People say they're your friends. You see pictures of you with them and with others. They sound believable. But you don't know for sure. You're gripped with paranoia because you can't tell if people are lying to you. All kinds of bizarre scenarios go through your head: you're the heir to the Romanoff throne, you're an heiress who's been kidnapped for ransom, you're an international jewel thief, you're a spy. They all make sense, or at least as much sense as anything else. You are real Tabula Rasa and remember what strange background stories the Buffy cast created for themselves in that episode.

Cordelia acts the way someone with amnesia likely would act. She's hesitant, but not immediately hostile. She's skittish, but she doesn't just run away. She is trying to figure out what's going on and what her role in things is. In a lesser show, the amnesiac character would immediately jump to the wrong conclusions leading to all kinds of problems. Then, in the climax, she'd save the day by suddenly remembering. Angel eschewed that triteness. Instead, Cordelia jumps to no conclusions. She gravitates toward the person who seems to have been most honest with her. But she doesn't condemn the others. She just realizes she needs someone who is honest to the point of frightening right now. It's the only approach which gives perspective to her newly minted world. She understands the others were trying to help and she doesn't want to cut them off. She just needs a different treatment for the time being.

Connor's honesty comes as a shock. I kept expecting him to lie to her, to try to get her on his side and against Angel. But he tells her everything. He tells her not only what he did to Angel, but what he tried to do to her. He admits he didn't understand. From what we see in this episode, Connor isn't looking for an ally in his private war of vengeance, he's just looking to help Cordelia and maybe create something like the happy family she thought they had. He understands that all the lies of the past destroyed the chance of happiness and now he is being totally honest, taking the risk that his honesty will dash his hopes. Instead, it pays off.

The scene in which Lilah makes Wesley sign the dollar is beautiful. It speaks to the tragedy of their existence. View that scene by itself and it's a couple who are seeing their relationship deepen and who are on the way to something meaningful and important. It's two happy people getting ready to spend their lives together. Think back to it after we've seen the dollar drop to the floor and Lilah tell Wesley that he could never trust her and you realize it's an incredibly sad moment. It's a symbol of the things they will never have and can never have with one another. A symbol of the happiness not denied them, but which they have denied themselves.

When Wesley asks Lilah if she really has to go at the time it seems to just be part of his act. But in retrospect, I think he was trying to break the pattern. He knew she was going to start something which would lead to his getting Angel and to a confrontation between good and evil. And he doesn't want that confrontation. He wants to return to that happy moment when he was signing the dollar. To the moment when their relationship was a human one, not an apocalyptic one. But Lilah leaves. The dollar falls to the floor unobserved. Their hopes are shattered.

Where Connor's honesty pays off in a strong bond between himself and Cordelia, the dishonesty which Lilah and Wesley practise leads to the destruction of their relationship before it is even born. Lilah makes this explicit when she tells Wesley that his inability to ever trust her led her to playing him. Or at least, that's implied. I'm not sure if she would not have played him had she felt the relationship was possible or would simply have played him differently. Wesley, noting it's never simple, understands the complexity of the relationship that is and that could have been.

When Angel and Buffy had sex, it led to the recreation of Angelus. When Angel and Darla had sex, it led to the birth of Connor. So what will be the result of Wesley and Lilah having sex? Is the beast which will slouch toward Bethlehem their creation? Will their relationship, or whatever it is, lead to some change in the balance between good and evil? Will the apocalyptic battle be played out in part between the two of them? They have both deceived one another and used one another. Has that made things worse and will a sudden honesty between them make things better.

Some quick final thoughts. Does Connor return to the hotel because the sight of the family in the car makes him yearn for his family? Does anyone not on a tv show or in a film have an answering machine where you can hear the call while the machine gets it? I sure don't. How many of you were thinking, as I was, that Lilah wanted Wesley's signature on that dollar for some nefarious reason? Will anyone pick up on Wesley's fresh start reference and maybe give him one? In Ground State, Lilah said Connor needed a big sister or a Mrs. Robinson. Maybe in Cordelia he found that.

Finally, here's The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats. Feel free to make all the connections you like between the poem and the episode. Whedon obviously wants us to. There are some interesting references to blood and innocence.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Lines of the week:

"But not tonight." - Cordelia implying a lot more than she says.

"I am a spy." - Cordelia coming to a pretty logical conclusion.

"I look Russian to you."
"Black Russian."
"That's a drink."
"Says the head spy." - Cordelia with quick answers to Gunn's and Angel's arguments.

"Seabreeze." - Lorne trying to be a comfort.

"Not a sidekick." - Gunn sticking up for himself.

"Evil's comin' Angel. And it's plannin' on stayin'." - Lorne, dropping his Gs and scaring everyone.

"Of now. Of this." - Lilah on all she and Wesley have.

"Have you been caffeinating your blood again?" - Fred letting us in on a little secret about Angel.

"Do you really have to go?" - Wesley wishing things were different.

"You like shoes. And doughnuts. And you're very brave." - Connor telling Cordelia about herself.

"Don't mess with the big dog. It's better than sidekick." - Gunn desperately seeking a label.

"If I thought you'd ever trust me, I would never have played you like that." - Lilah on their mutual failure.

"It's never simple, is it?" - Wesley with some expensive insight.

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