The gang are confronting Cordelia as they did at the end of the last episode. She asks what tipped them off. Angel says it was her use of the phrase 'my sweet' to refer to her unborn baby. He remembered the beast master used that phrase when talking to Angelus. Wesley says all the circumstantial evidence led to her. Angel doesn't believe she really is Cordelia. He asks who she is. Connor crashes in through the skylight. He beats off the others and shoots Angel with a tranquilizer. As Angel falls, he asks what she is. Connor and Cordelia leave. The magic 8 ball rolls to Angel with Ask Again Later displayed.
Gunn, who claims he didn't get their page because being around electroGwen screws your equipment, arrives to find the beat up gang at the hotel who tell him Cordelia is evil. They explain she is the beast master and Connor helped her escape. Angel maintains Connor is not evil, just confused. They realize she groomed Connor to be her champion. They realize Lorne's spell to cure her amnesia awoke the demon within her. That what he read was that demon. They realize she killed Manny and the priestesses and stole Angel's soul. They realize the spell to reensoul Angel was actually a spell to mess up Lorne's powers. Wesley realizes she killed Lilah.
Connor has taken Cordelia to a safe place (in the meat packing district). He asks why they were trying to hurt her and she says they are scared of them and the baby and wanted to kill it. She says Angel hates him because he lost her to him. She says Angel is an animal and he turned them all against them. Connor says he'd kill them all before letting them hurt her. At the hotel, Angel returns from a fruitless hunt for Cordelia. Wesley says the Connor relationship was part of the plan to keep Angel emotional and confused. Angel expresses sorrow at Lilah's death and Wesley says why should he care, Angel and Lilah were enemies. Angel says he cares because Wesley did. Wesley changes the subject, saying he can find nothing about the beast master and it must have erased all record of itself the way it erased references to the beast. Wesley suggests going to the powers that be, Angel points out that hasn't helped much in the past. Angel argues that the powers didn't do anything to stop Cordelia because they didn't want to get their hands dirty. He says they need somebody who does, somebody in the middle of it all.
Cordelia and Connor move to another hideout. Connor still can't believe Angel tried to kill her. He wonders whether it was Angelus. Cordelia assures him it was Angel. He remembers what Angel said about being a champion and making the world a better place. She says those were lies meant to keep him in his place. He can't believe the others would be evil. He says they were good. She says these are just words, concepts of morality forced upon him. She says they don't have to live by their rules because they are special and their baby will be extraordinary.
Fred, Gunn, and Angel are in Cordelia's room where they find nothing. Angel is going somewhere dangerous and assures the others he'll be fine. Next we see, he's beating up a demon. He goes into another room where he finds Skip, eating Buffalo wings and waiting for the game to come on. He asks Skip about Cordelia. Skip says she ascended. Angel says she's back and Skip says no one comes back from paradise (he admits a slayer did once). Angel says either Skip is a dupe or he's in on it. Skip admits he's not a dupe and prepares to fight. Skip seems to be winning. He says he took a dive when they last fought to let Angel rescue Billy (in That Vision Thing). Meanwhile, Cordelia is telling Connor that Angel won't give up until he finds them. She says when they see how beautiful their baby is it will change everything. But the baby is a week or two off and Angel will find them before that. She says there is a way to bring their baby into the world now, but she'll need Connor to get her some special things.
Skip continues to beat up Angel. Angel breaks off Skip's blade on his hand. Then breaks off the bone on the side of his head. Wrapping a chain around his hand, he manages to beat Skip into unconsciousness. He returns to the hotel with Skip and tells the others they need to bind him to this dimension. On the street, a young girl is attacked by a vampire who calls her a virgin. Connor stakes him. He then punches the girl and knocks her out. He brings her to Cordelia who tells him not to listen to his heart because it will lie to him. That he should trust her. She says the girl is just an average normal person. But what they do will elevate her beyond that and give her death meaning. She says the girl's death for their baby is a fair trade.
Skip is captive. They threaten him with eternal agony and he agrees to talk. He tells them Cordelia is real, but she's not in control of herself. That the demonic force running her is actually responsible for her ascension. Meanwhile, Cordelia is starting a spell. Connor goes over to the girl who comes to. He gives her some water, but ignores her pleas. Suddenly, an image of Darla appears. She says the powers sent her to him. She goes over to the girl and says she recognizes her fear, she saw it in all the people she murdered. He says she's dead. We realize the girl can't see her. Darla says she'll always be a part of him. That she shared his soul once and it brought light to her shadow. He's angry that she killed herself claiming she hated him. She says she loved him and traded her life for his. She says he was the one good thing she ever did. She is angry about the girl. Connor says they need her to keep their baby safe. She says safety cannot be achieved by an evil deed. He says good and evil are just words. She asks him not to let her death mean nothing.
Skip tells the others that they can do nothing to stop what will happen.Skip says everything that happened to them - Cordelia getting the visions, Lorne leaving Pylea, Fred going to Pylea, Gunn's sister being killed, Wesley sleeping with Lilah - has been planned. This includes Connor's birth. Angel realizes Connor was intended to sleep with Cordelia and create a vessel for the evil to come. The baby is the big bad. Skip says they can only stop it by killing Cordelia. He says giving birth will also kill her or reduce her to cabbage level. Angel asks how to find her. Skip names a ritual, thinking they can't perform it. But Lorne demonstrates they can. Skip isn't happy.
Connor tells Darla he and Cordelia are feared because they are special. She says they are scared. Connor says they wanted to kill him before he was born. She says that changed when they saw him. He says the same will happen when they see his baby. She says he has a choice. He argues they are hunted like animals. She says he is acting like one. She says as vampire she killed without remorse because she had no soul. She asks what his excuse is. He says he doesn't want to do this. She says then don't. He says he has to. She says why, because Cordelia says so. She tells him it has to be his choice, he can stop it. The girl cries and Connor yells at her. Darla says this isn't him. He says how would she know. She talks of sharing a soul and knowing his pain. She says she feels the good in him.
Fred and Gunn are wondering what Angel will do. Gunn says he will do what is necessary. She wonders if it matters, if Skip is right in saying their actions are meaningless. Gunn says he knows that ultimately the final score in life cannot be predetermined. That free will and choice exist. He says you just never know which decision is the important one, so you have to treat them all as if they are. Lorne tells them they've got it. Skip claims they are all puppets, Wesley tells him to shut up. Lorne says Cordelia is in the meat packing district. Angel tells them he will go alone. He doesn't want the burden of Cordelia's death on them. Wesley says Angel has no choice but to kill her.
Connor seems to be freeing the girl. Cordelia enters. Connor seems to have been swayed by Darla and doesn't want to kill the girl. Cordelia realizes someone has got to him. She says it's magic, a trick by Angel. Darla tells him not to listen, to shut him out. But Cordelia realizes it's Darla. She says it's lies and that is not Darla. They both plead with him, Cordelia arguing that he is playing into Angel's hands and jeopardizing their baby. He shouts out that the vision of Darla is not his mother. He drags the girl to the place of the ritual. As Darla pleads with him to stop, Cordelia kills her. She has Connor dip his hand in the girl's blood and put it on her belly as she recites a ritual.
There's an earthquake. It frees Skip and he attacks the gang. Cordelia says it's the beginning of a new world, but Angel has arrived. Skip is beating them all up. Angel says she lied, it's not Cordelia. But Connor doesn't listen and attacks. Cordelia yells to kill Angel. Wesley tries shooting Skip, but the bullets have no effect. But when Skip turns, Wesley sees the hole in his armor Angel created. He shoots and the bullet enters the hole killing Skip. Meanwhile, Angel and Connor continue to fight. Angel goes to strike Cordelia, but before he can the demon is born and the force of its birth hurls him back. He goes to attack it, but it has appeared as a woman. He falls to his knees as does Connor. He says she's beautiful. She says Angel.
Gunn and Fred killed her exprofessor. Wesley helped Fred do that and kidnapped Connor. Cordelia killed Lilah. Angel, well as Angelus he did pretty much everything. I can't recall Lorne ever doing anything, but maybe my memory is just failing. Now, Connor kidnaps a girl and is an accessory to murder. Admittedly, this group isn't all that evil compared to the Buffy crew (as alluded to in the Willow/Wesley dialogue in Orpheus), but they are still pushing the envelope. We can forgive Cordelia since she was controlled by a demon within her. But can we forgive Connor? Which makes me wonder whether he will live out this season. You can only push that "he's confused" argument so far.
I have to admit, I didn't especially like this episode. I felt the revelation of Skip as evil and of all the events of the past few years as part of an evil master plan struck me as lame. Nothing that had happened before set this up. I took as a symbol of this deus ex machina approach to scripting the fact that I, like many others it seems, thought Skip was being played by a different actor this episode. He seemed so different, probably because his character has been altered 180 degrees. Only it's the same actor probably just struggling to make some sense out of a bizarre scripting decision. Compare this to Faith going evil or Willow going dark and it's a real failure. Nothing set this up.
What I want to talk about this week are the two themes articulated in this episode. Themes which have dominated many an episode of Buffy and Angel: Nietzschean philosophy and free will. Cordelia articulates the former with Darla in opposition (much like the good and bad angels of cartoons) and Gunn articulates the latter with Skip taking the opposing position.
Cordelia keeps telling Connor that they are special. She argues that this specialness puts them above the morality of the others. That concepts of good and evil have no real meaning but are relative. She tells Connor that the concept of the champion, the idea of the strong having a responsibility to protect the weak articulated by Angel, is meaningless. That it's just a technique for controlling the strong and stopping them from doing what they want. She argues that being strong gives you the right to do what you want. When she sees he wavers, upon bringing her the girl, she tells him to disregard his feelings. She works to purge him of all positive emotions and thoughts calling them lies and weaknesses. She argues that the girl has no value, that her life is meaningless and that exchanging it for their child will actually give it meaning. She twists the act of murder into an ennobling act arguing that it helps the victim. The average person only has value, in her cosmology, insofar as he or she interacts with the superior person. Serving the superiors, even if it means death, is the only meaningful and worthwhile thing. This completely subverts Angel's concept of champion, where the superior is the servant of the average person preserving society and enabling normality. Fighting the demons so the others needn't even know they exist. Cordelia argues the average ones should be sacrificed to ensure the existence of the demons.
When Darla appears, she says she has always been close to his heart. This is the heart Cordelia has told him to ignore. Later, when he asks Cordelia if she can see Darla she says she can see the lies. She is arguing conflicting points to Connor. On the one hand, she justifies her sacrifice of the girl in the name of mother love and has essentially bound him to her via their child. But she denies the reality of Darla's mother love. She makes Connor renounce his mother, deny her existence. Darla talks of the light Connor's soul brought to her (even as the dark being within Cordelia has the reverse effect). While Cordelia wants to sacrifice the girl to save their baby, Darla points out she sacrificed herself for Connor. This is the opposite of Cordelia's philosophy. Darla is the ultimate example of sacrifice from the strong to protect the weak.
When Darla says Connor is her one good deed, she ties her redemption to his actions. If he is evil, despite her sacrifice, then it lessens the value of that sacrifice. This is why she talks about how he repays her with evil. She makes the point that evil acts cannot make you safe. When he argues that good and evil have no meaning she replies that he must not let her death mean nothing. He talks of being special, the argument Cordelia gave him. Yet while Cordelia has argued that their superior power gives them the right to do what they want, Connor argues that he is acting against his will performing an evil deed he doesn't want to perform. He says he is forced to it, thus denying his superiority while at the same time arguing for it. Darla tells him he has a choice.
When Darla tells Connor he has a choice, that choice is a precious thing, she creates a link to the theme of free will. When Skip finally tells the gang what is happening, he argues it doesn't matter - although this makes one wonder why he held out the truth in the first place. He says they can do nothing to change the course of events. He contradicts himself again when he grows panicky because they can perform the ritual to find Cordelia. His words worry Fred, but Gunn assures her the ultimate faith of them as individuals and of the world as a whole is not predetermined. That they have the ability to make the choices that make a difference. He argues that the problem is knowing which choices are the critical ones. Since we cannot know, he says we have to treat all choices as if they are crucial. We always have to strive to do the right thing.
Skip argues they are all puppets, but we begin to see his arguments against free will are merely a ploy to sap the will from the gang. The issue is not whether they can make a difference, but whether they will exercise their will or give in to despair. This is the same point Darla raises with Connor, less effectively. It's ironic that Wesley says Angel has no choice. Actually, he does. He could choose to do the easy thing and not kill the woman he has come to love. Not to fight his son. Just to give up. He could go along with Skip's argument that nothing matters. Instead, he takes the hard road. He chooses to go alone and to do what he knows in his heart is right. Wesley really means that, given his dedication to being a champion, Angel's course of action is clear.
There is a certain irony in the manner of Skip's defeat (probably death). He keeps pretending nothing matters, yet he is beaten because Wesley refuses to give in to despair. He keeps trying and he makes what is clearly an impossible shot, firing a bullet into a hole scarcely larger than the bullet itself. But he makes that shot and Skip is defeated. Wesley has demonstrated that if you keep trying, you can win. That defeat only comes from failing to try. It's equally ironic that Angel echoes Connor's words about not having a choice. Of course, both of them do. They can choose to do evil or good. They can choose to do nothing or to take actions uncertain of the outcome. They can choose to seek out safety or danger. They can choose to protect or to destroy. Angel has made the good choices, Connor the bad ones.
Some quick final thoughts. Of all the ways to figure out Cordelia was the beast master, the one Angel gave was the lamest. That comment Gunn makes about Gwen's power screwing with his equipment is just rife with double entendre. Angel feels the powers that be don't want to get their hands dirty. But they do send Darla to Connor. It seems to me the powers aren't willing to interfere with free will. It's interesting that Angel wants to believe Cordelia isn't really Cordelia and Connor wants to believe Angel isn't really Angel. For a guy who was really down on magic before, Connor doesn't have much of a problem with the spells Cordelia is casting.
Lines of the week:
"Cordy's evil. Nice suit." - Fred getting it all together.
"Because you did." - Angel on why he cares about Lilah's death.
"Lies meant to keep you in your place." - Cordelia subtly preaching Nietzschean values.
"Concepts of morality they forced around your neck." - Cordelia getting less subtle.
"Ok, a slayer once." - Skip with a nod to continuity.
"It will lie to you if you let it." - Cordelia telling Connor not to trust himself.
"Her blood for our baby. That's more than fair." - Cordelia driving the point home.
"My life for yours." - Darla taking the opposite point.
"You were the one good thing I ever did." - Darla on her hope for salvation.
"Don't let my death mean nothing." - Darla pointing out the consequences.
"You have a choice Connor. That is something more precious than you'll ever know." - Darla linking the two themes.
"The final score can't be rigged." - Gunn on the essential fairness of the game of life.
"You're all puppets." - Skip still trying.
"I don't have a choice." - Angel oversimplifying.Got a comment? Send me mail.
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