Angel - Release

Summary

Wesley has brought a badly beaten Faith to his home. She says all she wants is a shower. In the shower, we see she is badly bruised and bleeding. She smashes the wall, breaking off the tiles, and screams. Cut to a bar where Angelus is drinking with some fawning fans. A demon at the bar gripes about him bringing back the sun. Angelus goes to beat him up, but before he can really get into it, he hears a voice in his head - the master of the beast. He starts talking to it. Since no one else can hear it, they stare at him like he's crazy. The voice is angry that he killed the beast. Angelus says he thought it might get his attention. Angelus goes into a back room where we see vampires feeding off what look like drugged women. Angelus says he wants to see the voice. Cut to Cordelia talking in her natural voice although Angelus hears a deep voice in his head. Angelus realizes the beast master was manipulating the gang into releasing Angelus and then stole Angel's soul. The beast master says he has plans for Angelus and Angelus says he has his own plans. He taunts the beast master. Connor enters the room and Cordelia goes back to normal. Angelus thinks the beast master has left and he walks off. Cordelia and Connor talk about Faith and what happened. She says Angelus killing the beast means they did the right thing in releasing him. That their family is safer because of it. Connor says he will never let anything hurt Cordelia or the baby. She says no one else needs to know of their happiness. He thinks she's ashamed of him. She says no, the baby is growing so fast it would scare them. That fear might make them want to kill it. She assures Connor soon they will know what is growing inside of her.

The gang are arming themselves with tranquilizer guns. Connor enters and a jumpy Fred almost shoots him. He tells them Cordelia is tired. He stops Fred from going upstairs and says Cordelia wants some soup and goes to get it. They think he's acting oddly and Fred wonders if he and Cordelia are still doing it. Lorne doesn't think so, but he doesn't know what's going on. Fred thinks it was a mistake for Faith to bench Connor. The others disagree, but Fred isn't sure Faith is up to taking on Angel. At Wesley's, Faith says she's ready to go. He just stares at her and she apologizes about the bathroom. He says he's not concerned about that, but he needs to know she's in the game all the way. She says she is.

At the hotel, Fred is looking for runic texts. Angelus arrives. He claims to have a charm which exempts him from the no violence spell. He wants information about the beast master. She says she has none. He says he'll just take all the research materials and figure it out himself. She says the beast master is too tough for him. She sees the charm says made in China and is a fake. She attacks him, but he manages to avoid her shots. She accidently shoots Lorne. Connor attacks him, but the anti demon violence spell kicks in and Connor is knocked down and over the stairs to the floor below. Angelus flees outside where he finds Faith and Wesley arriving. They fight. He grabs Wesley and threatens to kill him if Faith attacks. Wesley tells Faith to go ahead, but she doesn't. Gunn arrives and tosses a gun to Faith. Angelus hurls Wesley at them and flees. Gunn runs after him, Faith runs to Wesley who tells her to go. But Angelus is gone.

Connor rushes into Cordelia's room worried for her safety. She comes out of the bathroom talking of morning sickness. He tells her what happened, but doesn't mention discovering his demon nature. Downstairs, Fred tells Gunn she blames herself for what happened. He says it wasn't her fault and he's just glad the charm was a fake so she couldn't be hurt. Fred starts to talk reconciliation, but Wesley suddenly takes a shotgun out and says there is a change of plans. He says he may need to slow Angelus down so they can tranq him. He asks Gunn to stay at the hotel and guard it. He warns next time Angelus might have a real charm. He and Faith go outside and he wonders whether if they find Angelus she'll just let him escape again. She says he would have killed Wesley had she acted. Wesley says she has to be vicious to defeat Angelus.

Angelus is at an occult bookstore looking through the documents he stole. He isn't making any headway and he's torturing the shopkeeper hoping he can help. Then the beast master starts talking to him again - loudly. It threatens him saying he must never seek out the beast master again and that it knows his every move before he makes it. Angelus wonders what he can do, since he seems incapable of action by himself and only acts through others like the beast. The beast master says they should be friends and Angelus says he doesn't have friends and if he did they wouldn't live inside his head. The beast master says like he lives inside Angel's head. It talks about how Angelus was helpless and trapped there. The beast master reveals that he has Angel's soul. It threatens to return the soul and trap Angelus unless he obeys. Angelus agrees and calls him master. Cut to Cordelia holding the soul.

At the hotel, Gunn and Fred are arming themselves. Fred is down about her failure to stop Angelus. Gunn tries to reassure her. He says if she did make a mistake all she has to do is not repeat it. She asks if it's really that simple. They begin to talk about their relationship. She says she's sorry about what happened with Wesley. He says it's not about that anymore. She says she misses him, that she wants to go back. They kiss. Awkwardly, he says he should do a sweep and leaves.

In the bar, Faith is beating up the demon Angelus was beating up at the beginning of the episode. He doesn't want to talk and thinks they are about to get beaten up, but Wesley shoots the face off an attacking demon. He suddenly remembers who Angelus is. He tells them what happened. They go in the back where they find a lot of drugged girls and vampires. A vampire attacks and Wesley stakes it. At the hotel. Connor is staring in the mirror and trying to see if he can bring on a vampire face. Cordelia sees him and realizes what happened. She points out she is part demon. He says she chose to be and he doesn't know what he is. She says he's a daddy and daddies need to take responsibility. He has to keep them safe. She tells him to go downstairs and that she'll feel better if she knows everything that is going on.

Faith goes to help the drugged girls. Wesley says they did it to themselves. They take the drugs and the vampires feed using the girls as a kind of filter. Both get high. Faith grabs the girl, shoves her against the wall, and asks about Angelus. The girl says she doesn't know anything. Faith lets her go. Wesley stabs the girl. He tortures her and she admits she did see Angelus and tells them what she heard. He realizes the beast master has made contact with Angelus. Faith asks if torturing humans is part of his makeover. He says he did it because she wasn't. He reminds her there was a time she didn't mind torture. He talks about her torturing him in Five By Five. He says she hasn't changed, no matter how much she pretends. That she's sick. That her friends turned on her in Sunnydale because of this. Enraged by his taunts she attacks him. He says that's what she needs to defeat Angelus, she has to take it all the way. She says no, there has to be another way.

Lorne awakens. They tell him what happened. He recognizes the charm and where Angelus got it. Gunn tells Fred to call Wesley and give him this new information. Faith and Wesley enter the shop, hoping the owner can give them information about Angelus. They find his body and Angelus waiting for them. They fight. Angelus gets Wesley's gun and knocks him down and out. He starts firing at Faith. He says she's gone soft. He reminds her of the time she wanted Angel to kill him in Five By Five. He asks if she still feels that way. She says no. He says too bad, goes she's going to die. But not with a gun. They go hand-to-hand. He taunts her, but she just keeps fighting. He says she's a murderer and an animal and she enjoys it just like him. She beats him down and says she's different, that she's not like him. He grabs her, says she will be, and bites her neck.

Analysis

Looking at this week's Fred/Gunn scenes, I couldn't help but wonder why the chemistry between them just never seems as intense as that between Wesley and Lilah. It's not the dialogue. This week, those scenes were as well written as any I've seen on the show. It's not the acting. These two can hold their own with any of the others in the cast. I've come to the conclusion it's the reason for the relationship and for its problems. Fred and Gunn came together after a lengthy period of friendship and courtship. Their relationship has foundered because of circumstances - Fred's murderous rage against her exprofessor and Gunn acting on it coupled with Fred's inability or unwillingness to do anything to squelch Wesley's almost adolescent crush. These events created a gulf between the two which led to a formal split. This week they seemed on the verge of reconciliation, but never quite had the time to talk things through.

Wesley and Lilah ended up together almost instantly. There was no friendship, no courtship period, just instant relationship. Or at least instant sex. Both were using the other from the start and neither ever trusted the other. The relationship was doomed not because of things which happened, but because of the kind of people they are. Lilah had actively chosen evil, Wesley good. They might disguise those choices - Lilah by occasionally doing a pseudo good deed like not killing Lorne and Wesley by adopting his tough, unfeeling persona - but the choices were firmly made and irrevocable. As the memory of Lilah said last week, Wesley could never save her from herself nor could either of them save the relationship from themselves. It was doomed from the start. Fred and Gunn splitting up is sad. Wesley and Lilah being together was tragic - no happy end was ever possible. And that, in retrospect, is why it had so much incredible chemistry.

Faith is really a changed person. We see this a number of times. There is her more or less silent acceptance of her pain. She smashes the wall, then apologizes, and just quietly gets ready to go on. There is her refusal to risk Wesley's life and the fact that she immediately rushes to his side rather than pursuing Angelus. Faith is putting the safety of others above her mission. There is her response to Wesley's torture of the girl (interestingly paralleled with her torture of the demon earlier). Again and again in these scenes, Wesley questions her commitment, her willingness to go all the way. Wesley believes he needs a slayer without fear. Not simply without fear of personal harm, but without fear of harming others. He realizes Faith is not ready to destroy Angelus/Angel. And he's wrong in believing that only the willingness to be as vicious as their enemy is the route to success.

Faith instinctively understands that she will triumph not by reducing herself to the animalistic nature of Angelus - note that he tries to undermine her self confidence by arguing that she is like him - but by taking the high road. It's the fact that she's not ready to risk the lives of others, that she's not ready to kill Angelus knowing it also means the destruction of the innocent Angel, that makes her stronger and will ultimately make her the victor. There is a strong connection here to the theme of redemption which is dominant in this seasons Buffy series.

There's an interesting parallel between the escaped prisoner Angelus - freed by the actions of the gang from the prison of Angel's soul controlled body, and the escaped prisoner Faith - freed by the actions of the gang from a human prison. Angelus was the victim of the gypsy curse. Faith went to prison willingly. Angelus, once freed, sought only his own pleasure. Faith, once freed, sought only to do good. Their conflict isn't just the conflict between vampire and slayer, good and evil, but between one who has accepted justice and the penalty meted out to her and one who continues to live in a self induced delusion where good is evil and justice does not exist.

There also seems to be a parallel between Fred/Gunn and Cordelia/Connor. In both cases, relationships which once existed are being rebuilt or at least an attempt at rebuilding is happening. Fred talks about turning back the clock and going back to the way it was. Cordelia talks about Connor having the family he missed out on the first time. Gunn is resistant, believing too much has happened. He kisses Fred, but then leaves. Connor is more easily convinced, his kiss with Cordelia seals the deal and he goes at her command doing her bidding. Gunn tries to protect Fred. He keeps saying her failure to deal with Angelus was reasonable, that anyone would have done the same thing. He worries about her safety. Connor tries to protect Cordelia. He won't let the others see her (not unlike Gunn's quick response to any perceived criticism of Fred) and he promises to protect her. But Gunn is interested in Fred because he's interested in Fred. He still has strong feelings for her. Connor's interest in Cordelia is very much the product of her pregnancy. If it were not for that, Faith would be uppermost in his mind. Connor fears what he is - the possibility that he is a monster, a demon. The role of father and protector is a way of ignoring that possibility. Gunn and Fred know that they are murderers just as Cordelia knows she is a demon. When Connor looks at Cordelia, he sees a way of combining demon with goodness (although he is mistaken). But when Fred and Gunn look at one another they see the demonic face Connor doesn't see in the mirror. They are both guilty and that guilt is reflected. The difference is not one of good or evil, but of honesty and dishonesty. Gunn and Fred see the truth, Connor sees a false image and is deceived by lies and half truths.

Some quick final thoughts. The shower scene was amazing because of its complete lack of sexuality. I can't think of a scene where an attractive young actress was in the shower that we didn't get some profile shots or rear shots or something sexual. In this scene, all we saw were bruises and bleeding. It was a brilliant play on the convention. Well, in Cordelia's remark of the fast growing baby we got some explanation of how (after maybe a week) she had a noticeable pregnancy. The beast master is a big liar. It clearly doesn't know what Angelus is up to since Cordelia was really surprised to learn he had come to the hotel. Doesn't it occur to Connor that the mere fact he can see himself in the mirror indicates he is not a vampire - although he might be some other kind of demon. So when Cordelia points out she is a demon, at least partly, is that a big clue. Was her being made part demon by Skip back in Birthday the beginning of the process which led to her becoming evil or maybe just being controlled by evil? Or was this the evil thing disguised as Cordelia making a joke? Or something completely different I just can't guess? I loved the almost absent minded way Wesley cleaned his knife after torturing the girl. It's interesting that last week Wesley used the phrase five by five, that Faith used it this week, and that it was the title of the episode in which she tortured Wesley and pleaded with Angel to kill her both of which are referenced this week. Other than the necessities of plot, why didn't Angelus kill Wesley at the hotel when he had the chance? Wesley has become a good watcher. He prepares Faith for her confrontation with Angelus and actually manages to guess all of Angelus' moves including his attempt to undermine Faith's confidence.

Lines of the week:

"They're all gonna know what's growing inside of me." - Cordelia with a scary prophecy Connor just doesn't get.

"Thought you were more of a taser girl." - Connor letting Fred know he hasn't forgotten.

"Isn't that interesting." - Angelus on realizing Connor is categorized as demon.

"Angelus is an animal. The only way to defeat him is to be just as vicious as he is." - Wesley getting it all wrong.

"If you really think you did something wrong don't do it again. That simple." - Gunn really oversimplifying.

"I just want to go back." - Fred asking for the impossible.

"I am. At least partly." - Cordelia on her demon nature and maybe with a big clue.

"There's gotta be another way." - Faith realizing Wesley is on the wrong track.

"There's only one way to make the pain stop. Hurt someone else." - Angelus with the evil demon credo.

"I'm not like you." - Faith knowing herself.

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