Angel - Unleashed

Summary

The gang are having a picnic. At least they talk as if at a picnic, but actually this is just a cover as Fred scans to make sure they aren't being monitored. They discuss the problem of coping with the evil of Wolfram & Hart and its employees. Wesley raises the issue of Knox and this flusters Fred. They all are concerned about Gunn and what might have been done to him when he got his knowledge. Gunn says they all made a deal and they all got something. Wesley admits he got a silver pen with his name on it. Angel asks to borrow the pen. Cut to a girl being attacked by a werewolf. Angel arrives, fights the werewolf and kills it with the pen. It changes into a man. The girl drives off, but she's been bitten.

Angel is getting the gang working on tracking down the girl. Gunn has a history on the werewolf, McManus, who originally seems to have tried to fight off the curse but in recent times has just gotten worse and left a trail of death. Spike appears in Fred's office and tries to get her to focus on him, but she's working on the werewolf girl. He tells her his trips to the netherworld are getting longer, that something there is trying to hold on to him, that he fears one time he won't be able to come back. She wants him to talk to Wesley, but he refuses, making up a story about a history between him and Wesley. Fred sees through that. Cut to the gang working on the problem fruitlessly. Spike appears, mocking Angel. Dr. Royce, the staff cryptozoologist, tells them this is a different type of werewolf. One which walks upright. Spike notes the girl will be vicious and dangerous when she turns. He says he fought a werewolf once and the battle took an hour with him almost losing a finger. Fred points out Angel killed the werewolf with a pen.

Werewolf girl, we learn her name is Nina, wakes up. It looks as if she has had nightmares. She's bruised and her hearing is sensitive and her sight seems different. She goes into the kitchen where we see what I assume are her sister and her niece. They notice the bruising and her sister gives her some ice for it. Nina says she must have fallen. They're making dinner and Nina tells them not to over cook the meat. She suddenly has a vision of ripping out her niece's, Amanda, throat.

Fred gets a lead on the car. Lorne points out the girl likely would be speeding. Gunn checks the police cameras for people running red lights at that time. Wesley puts the license into the DMV database. Spike continues to complain about all the fuss over one girl and Angel basically tells him to vanish. At her home, Nina is babysitting Amanda. She poses for the girl who is sketching her. But she feels ill and goes to lie down. She falls in her room. Amanda hears this and goes upstairs. Nina begins changing into a werewolf. Angel appears at her window. The wolf leaps out at him, they tranquilise her and take her off in a van. Nina wakes in a cell, naked. There are clothes on the floor and she dresses. Angel comes in and unlocks the cell door. She thinks he's a psycho rapist. He shows her a video of her transforming back into a human. She begins to remember the wolf attack and the fact Angel saved her. We learn her sister's name is Jill. She tells Angel about wanting to rip Amanda's throat out. Angel tells her there is a difference between the evil inside her and her. He reveals he's a vampire and tells her it is possible to be a demon and be good. That you can fight the evil within. He admits he can't cure her, but he can keep her safe.

Angel tells the others Nina has agreed to stay in the cell for the next full moon night. Spike is back mocking. Royce says the first few transformations are the worst. Royce suggests taking her home to get some personal possessions. He says familiar scents and images can have a calming influence. Spike says Nina will inevitably get out and kill. And then feel guilty when she's human since she has a soul. Angel says it doesn't seem to have bothered him. Spike starts denying this, but vanishes midsentence. Angel is glad he's gone. Fred says she'll take Nina to the house, since it's daytime. She agrees to take security with her. In the van, Fred tries to reassure Nina telling her it's just three nights a month, not even days. Nina asks if Fred and Angel are a couple and she says no, explaining Angel doesn't date much because of his circumstances. Nina says it must be lonely and Fred says they are like a family, there for one another.

Angel is signing off on the paperwork to release the McManus body. But he's not paying attention, still concerned about Nina and what she'll be going through. Gunn tries to cheer him up, but Angel rudely shuts him down. Gunn leaves. Lorne comes in and tells Angel he has to pay more attention to his friends who are trying to help. That he's lashing out blindly and hurting them as much as his enemies. Fred and Nina arrive at Nina's home. Her sister is really upset at her disappearance and Nina can't really explain. Fred makes up a story about having called Nina because she was frantic over being dumped by a guy and getting her car towed. Jill isn't interested. She was so scared she called the police. Nina says Jill can't rely on her all the time. She takes some things and walks out. Outside, Fred notices something strange. She opens the van door to discover the guards have been taken out. They flee, but masked men appear from a car and grab them. Fred has a tranq gun and fights back, pretty effectively. But eventually they take her out and grab Nina. One of the men calls somebody saying they have the package. The man called tells him to bring it round back.

Nina is hung in chains. She's hosed down, then a woman cuts off her clothes and starts cleaning her. At the firm, Royce is singing for Lorne who clears him. Lorne has checked security and staff who might have tipped someone off about Nina. Fred says the kidnappers were almost military. Wesley clearly thinks of the Initiative. Fred realizes Spike has been missing for a long time. Royce comes in with a list of potential werewolf nabbing suspects. Fred sees Spike, even more immaterial than usual, and chases after him. He doesn't seem to hear her. She follows him into Royce's office where he walks through the wall. She accidently knocks over the waste basket and sees something. Royce comes in and she distracts him and then knocks him out. Fred spotted a vial of calendula in Royce's garbage - this allowed him to block Lorne's reading. Gunn finds a secret panel in Royce's desk. Meanwhile, Angel is roughing up Royce. Angel finds out where Nina is. The others hand him a paper they found in Royce's desk. It's a menu. Cut to Nina being wheeled on a serving cart into a dining room. A crowd applauds. The host says moonrise is in 15 minutes and shortly after, gesturing to Nina, dinner will be served.

The host is talking about how they'll serve the werewolf. There is a knock at the door, it's Royce. They let him in and Gunn, Wesley, and Angel come with him knocking out the doorman. Wesley tells Gunn Nina has to be alive because the dead werewolf turns human. So to eat werewolf you have to eat it live. We learn the host is Crane. Angel frees Nina who says he should leave her, that she's better off dead. He disagrees. Crane's men appear with guns. One shoots Angel, Nina changes, in the ensuing confusion the gang get the upper hand and Wesley tranquilises Nina. Crane says his guests paid a lot for the meal and he has to give them something. Nina comes to and bites Royce. Wesley tranquilises her again. Angel says in a month Crane will have a werewolf. Crane has his men take the protesting Royce away.

At the firm, Fred finds the still quasi immaterial Spike in her office. He says he wasn't sure he'd come back this time. She realizes he didn't lead her to Royce on purpose. She wants to tell Angel, he refuses. She says she will help him. She promises she will bring him back. The next morning, Angel drives Nina home. He tells her one day it'll just be part of who she is. She asks if he ever considers disappearing. He says if you separate yourself from those you love the monster wins. She says she'll see him next month. She goes to Jill and Amanda who are happy to see her. They hug. Angel drives off.

Angel has the gang over to his place. Lorne makes cosmos. Gunn says Crane's restaurant is permanently out of business. Fred says she's hungry and orders Chinese. Angel says he'll pay. Gunn asks Angel if he thinks he has a shot with Nina. Angel says she gave him a look. Fred is on the phone to the restaurant explaining they've moved. She orders 1 mu shu chicken, 2 beef and broccoli, 1 cashew shrimp, and lettuce wrap.

Analysis

Three mundane episodes in a row, surely a Buffyverse record. This one even lacked much of Spike, in every sense. And Harmony was completely absent. On the plus side, Knox was only mentioned and Eve not seen. Plus, the ubiquitous John Billinglsey showed up as an evil doctor, a definite highlight of the episode. Wesley continues to be underused and he and Gunn are still searching for that second emotion. The plot was probably the simplest this show has ever had and there was little development of the story arc within it. The need to fight the demon inside constantly has been dealt with far better in the past. It does introduce werewolves (I can't recall if we've seen these on Angel before). The dinner club seemed an evil version of the film The Freshman. This could have worked, except we saw so little of it and its owner that the evil never really got across to us. And the ultimate end of the club was dealt with in a line of dialogue from Gunn. Not much sense of resolution there. I just find myself wondering why this episode exists. How it continued the development of these characters and this season's story. And I'm puzzled.

I cannot figure out what Spike's appearances and disappearances are linked to. I like the fact that this is not obvious, but I hope there is some pattern here which will be explained and that it isn't merely random. And I really hope they are not self inflicted. The final scene, where the semivisible Spike becomes fully visible when Fred reiterates her decision to help him worries me. Is this meant to imply Spike is in control of this phenomenon. Some people have suggested Spike is manipulating Fred for a deeper and possibly more evil purpose. I'd like to believe his unwillingness to let Angel or Wesley know has to do with his fear of their response (he would hate both their disdain and their pity) and not with some evil plan. Spike made the big leap from bad guy to hero and his plotting should be for good. So if he has some evil plan, well we went through that with evil Cordelia last season and I don't want to see it again. You can do this right (as with Wesley) or wrong (as with Cordelia). Spike isn't looking very Wesley so my hope is they aren't doing it at all. Fred should ask Spike what he thinks is trying to hold him in the netherworld. Is this First Evil from the last season of Buffy, it certainly has cause to hate Spike and the others. Or is it some other evil? Could this be the big bad of the season. I just hope this storyline goes somewhere and it isn't just a ploy on Spike's part to get Fred's attention.

It's pretty clear Wesley doesn't trust Knox. And everybody is a little uneasy about Gunn 2.0. And Angel just doesn't like Spike around. These feelings got restated this episode, but not much else. Fred continues to defend Knox and Spike. Gunn continues to protest his innocence. But the most interesting comment about these characters was Fred saying Spike had become something unique. Of course, Angel used to be unique. He used to be the vampire with a soul. Now he's one of two. He used to be a good person fighting the evil within, but now he's one of many - Nina is just another in a long list of people who strive to combat an inner evil. But Fred is right about Spike. As Angel sinks back into the crowd, Spike moves out of it. He plumbed the depths of evil, killing two slayers and basically spreading violence and death. Then he fell in love with a slayer, did the incredible act of seeking out and getting a soul, and sacrificed himself in the battle against evil. Now he's back, but he's unique in a new way, both in and out of the world, straddling the space between heaven, Earth, and hell. The battle to save Nina from the evil within, the battle Angel wages against the demon within him, the battle they all wage against the evil within Wolfram & Hart which seeks to devour them - this battle is concretely present in Spike. He appears and fades, he moves from the real world to hell and strives to achieve heaven. The effort to save him, to begin the process of moving him from hellspawn to human to angelic, is the concretisation of what the gang try to do every day.

Angel notes that McManus, the original werewolf. tried to fight the evil within him alone. He failed. He reaches out to Nina, letting her know she's not alone. This is very similar to what Doyle said to Angel in City of, about the need to integrate oneself into society and not isolate oneself. The gang face this danger. While they work together, they have become emotionally separate. Fred notes they rarely see one another, spending more time with the relative strangers they work with. Again, Spike is a concretisation of this reality. He physically separates himself, disappearing. And he's immaterial, never really part of their world. Plus, except for Fred, he refuses to confide in them. He won't share, won't become one of the group. But the group itself isn't doing that. There is mistrust of one another. Of the jealousy lurking below the surface (Wesley). Of the possible unknown changes (Gunn). Of the possible new alliances (Fred). Of secrets being kept (Angel).

It's no surprise that the gang are strongest when they work together. They discover Nina through team work. Fred does work on the tire prints, giving them a line on the car. Lorne points out the girl likely ran a red light. Gunn checks out police cameras. Wesley gets her address through the DMV. They are like a well oiled machine at this point. And Spike is a distraction, as Angel said in the opening sequence. He tries to get them focussed on him and not the girl. But he fails. More significantly, he vanishes. Does he do so because the vanishing is tied to his acts of selfishness. Or because his presence is tied to the interest the others have in him. As they focus on their work, he becomes tangential. That would explain why he rematerializes when Fred focuses on him again. Though nothing really explains how his quasi immaterial form leads Fred to Royce. Was this Spike or the powers that be or merely coincidence. The need to work together, to maintain their closeness, is made when Fred talks to Nina in the van about how they are a family. Spike really hasn't been accepted into that family yet and he has to be if he is to be saved.

One big problem with this episode was the failure to foreshadow it or to build up any of the characters and the threat they posed. We develop a little sympathy for Nina. But Royce comes out of nowhere. His treachery isn't surprising nor expected. He's a red shirt. And his use of a drug to fool Lorne is completely new. If it's that easy, then surely they should be running drug tests on all the staff and having Lorne read them again. Crane also comes out of nowhere and we can't be scared by his evil because we never get much chance to see it.

Angel says something interesting to Nina. He says vampires don't have to be evil. That they can control themselves if they want to. He doesn't say vampires with souls, he just attributes this to vampires. I think this is an essential point of the Buffyverse. While human laws don't apply to demons, largely because they can't, theological laws do. Demons have free will. They can choose to be good or evil. Spike chose. Yes, they have to drink blood, but that doesn't mean they have to kill. Life is messy. Every living thing ingests other living things. But the process can be done humanely. It doesn't have to involve pain and torture. That's the difference between living and being evil. It's the difference between having a steak dinner and eating a werewolf live. It's the point Angel makes here. And it's critical to our understanding of demons in the Buffyverse and why saving them is as important as destroying the evil ones amongst them. It's why carpet bombing isn't a solution.

Some quick final thoughts. For the most part, I'd approve of the gangs Chinese food preferences. And it was nice to see there is a regular place they call. What is it with Billingsley and doctors. He plays one here. He plays one on Enterprise. He plays one in the Denzel Washington film Out of Time. Why does Angel and company simply leave Amanda home alone and do nothing to contact Nina's sister. It would make a lot more sense if they had developed some cover story. Wolfram & Hart security isn't that good if Crane's people took them out so easily. Even unexpected, they should have done better. It doesn't make much sense to hose Nina down to clean her and then cut off her clothes. I understand washing the meat, and I realize they did this because the scene is basically impossible to film for broadcast tv the other way around. But it would have been better to go a different route. I really don't see how you can eat the werewolf live. Surely it will die before you cut off enough meat for that crowd. And do you eat the meat raw or cook it, meaning you have to keep the werewolf alive even longer. Gunn is getting more intellectual and Fred more physical. She gets pretty violent this episode and is pretty good at it. She does a good job fending off the kidnappers and then takes out Royce easily.

Lines of the week:

"Fear, mistrust, a great motor pool." - Angel on what he got out of the deal with Wolfram & Hart.

"He's something unique." - Fred on Spike.

"Angel killed him with a pen." - Fred deflating Spike.

"... can control themselves if they want to." - Angel on vampires.

"We try to be there for each other." - Fred on the Angel family.

"Last gasp before eternal fire and brimstone." - Spike on his situation.

"If you separate yourself from the ones you love, the monster wins." - Angel on how you fight it.

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