Angel - Smile Time

Summary

Tommy, a little boy, is watching Smile Time on tv while his mom is on the phone trying to get a babysitter for him since he's sick and staying home. She walks out of the room and a puppet on the show starts talking directly to him. It makes him touch the screen and his life force seems to transfer to the puppet. Then he falls on the floor unconscious, a weird smile stuck on his face.

Fred is in her lab and Knox comes in with medical files. A bunch of kids have lapsed into comas and Fred thinks it's mystical. She sees Knox has included a Valentine's day card with the files. She gives him back the card and says she's sorry. In the lobby, Nina the werewolf from Unleashed steps off the elevator. She's there for her monthly full moon lockup. She tells Angel she still hasn't told her sister the truth and she's pretending she's camping in the desert. She says her sister thinks she's becoming new agey and Angel suggests she might be relieved to learn Nina is a werewolf. Gunn steps up and asks Harmony if she has a receipt from the county clerk for the filing he made. She says he filed the wrong papers. Gunn pretends he did it on purpose to keep them on their toes. At her cell, Nina tells Angel how much she looks forward to seeing him each month. She asks what he's doing for breakfast. He says drinking blood and gets out. In his office, he tells this to Wesley who says Nina has been sending him signals for months. He says Harmony and Fred and the girls in transcription have confirmed this. Angel says he can't get involved. Wesley says he has to be afraid of perfect happiness (which will change him into Angelus) but that 99.9999% of relationship make do with acceptable happiness. Wesley says that if there is a woman he cares for who finds him interesting he should go for it. Wesley seems suddenly self engrossed and Angel asks who are they talking about. Wesley looks up and says Fred. Fred has just walked in the room and shows them the files on the sick kids. Angel notes that all the kids collapsed while watching tv. Angel says he'll follow up on the lead and rushes out. Fred says he really jumped on it and Wesley explains that he has just realized about Nina. Fred says her car is in the shop and starts asking for a lift but before she can finish Wesley has called the company limo service and asked for a driver to take her home that night. Meanwhile, Angel is with Lorne who agrees that Nina wants him. Lorne tells him that Smile Time is on at the right time.

Angel is at the tv station and walks into the closed set. It's after hours and only the cleaning staff are there. One walks past him without even seeing him, he's like a zombie. Angel enters the studio. There is a rumbling. He seems to shake something off. He sees a filing cabinet and moving it finds an entrance he walks through. There is a room with a sign saying DON'T. He enters it. There's a man there with a towel over his head and a huge egg shaped thing. The man says he shouldn't have come. The egg unleashes a burst of energy and he's thrown backward. As he scrambles up, we see he has been changed into a puppet.

In her lab, Fred gets a call from Angel. She says she doesn't think it's mystical, he yells that it is. Cut to Fred, Wesley, and Gunn entering Angel's office. Angel reveals he's a puppet. Lorne comes in late. Wesley asks what happened. Angel tells them. Wesley speculates it was a warding spell, Lorne wonders whether it's puppet cancer. Angel shouts that he doesn't have puppet cancer. Then he realizes it's Smile Time and rushes to the tv, but can't operate the remote with his puppet fingers. He gets angry and throws the remote down. Wesley says he has the exciteability of a puppet his size. Lorne turns on the show and we see the puppets talking about how one of them, Polo, is feeling down because he was told he won't win the race tomorrow. Fred calls to have the program recorded. The puppets sing a song about self esteem. Angel wants the special ops team and wants to launch an attack. They calm him down and Lorne says the producer is Gregor Framkin. Angel sends Lorne and Gunn to see Framkin and Wesley and Fred to work on curing the kids and him. As they go, he tells them to keep what happened to him secret. Nina enters and he dives under his desk before she can see him. She hears him and wants to talk about what she said last night. But he won't come out from under the desk and tells her to leave. As he gets up, Spike enters saying he needs a new car because the last one ended up in the water. Spike starts making fun of him. Cut to Spike hurtling through the glass wall into the lobby with puppet Angel attacking him. A crowd gathers. Spike continues to make fun and Angel hurls himself at him, biting him on the arm. They fight their way into a closing elevator. When it opens, Spike is on the floor and Angel walks out telling everyone to get back to work. He tells Harmony to get Spike a car.

Lorne and Gunn enter Framkin's office. Framkin is not easily intimidated and as Gunn tries to make a legal argument he seems flummoxed and loses his train of thought. They accuse Framkin of turning Angel into a puppet. Framkin disagrees. They threaten a fight and Framkin says he brings joy and laughter to children, they are an evil law firm. He's not afraid of them going public. They leave. We see there is a hole in Framkin's back and a puppet from the show has his hand in it. He pulls it out and Framkin collapses. He summons the other puppets and accuses them of turning Angel into a puppet. They realize he broke into the DON'T room and messed with the nest egg. The girl puppet says they should lighten the zombie spell so the crew can use the security cameras. The lead puppet says the nest egg has enough power for their cloaking spells now. The girl puppet is worried about Wolfram & Hart. The boy puppet says they can take the life force of their entire demographic on their next show. The dog puppet wants it to be a good show and starts talking about a song he wrote on the difference between analogy and metaphor. The boy puppet gets angry and says the lifeforce they stole is 100% pure innocence with a high street value in hell. They'll be rich and after the next show can burn down the place and flee. Framkin starts talking feebly asking to be let to die. The puppets mock him and the boy puppet puts his hand in again and starts torturing him.

Nina is in her cell and starts getting undressed. Before she can, Angel enters and reveals himself to her. He explains why he didn't talk to her that morning. She's sympathetic. She says he's a hero and the vampire thing is sexy. He says that's not how he feels. She says that's what she likes about him. He starts talking about how he's always thinking about the past and the future and his complicated life and doesn't pay attention to what's around him. While he says this, she turns into a werewolf and grabs him. Cut to Lorne walking down the corridor and finding a rather ripped up Angel puppet.

Cut to the doctor who did Gunn's implant now giving some other guy x-ray eyes. Gunn says his implant is fading and the doctor confirms this. He says Gunn can't afford to hire him and that the senior partners gave him the implant and they are taking it away. He compares Gunn's situation to Flower's for Algernon. He says he has some property held up at customs. He believes an upgraded Gunn could clear the red tape for him. Gunn says he doesn't make deals with people like the doctor. The doctor says he doesn't make deals with people like the real Gunn, an ignorant street kid. But he'll make one with the lawyer Gunn.

Cut to Fred and Wesley watching the tape of Smile Time (it's Action Math News). It's 4 am and Knox enters with coffee for himself and Fred, but he's conveniently forgotten Wesley. He and Wesley start sniping at one another and Fred tells him to go home. As he leaves, he turns to see Fred share her coffee with Wesley. They watch a song on the show. Wesley asks how things are going with Knox and she says they stopped. Wesley lowers the volume. Fred says Knox has been working there too long and he doesn't make her laugh. Wesley says she's looking for someone funny and she says not so much for as at. Wesley suddenly notices something on the tape. When the sound is on, the lead puppet seems to be singing. Mute it and he is talking to the audience. The song was a cloaking spell.

Cut to Angel sewing himself up in his office. Wesley and Fred enter and tell him what they've discovered. Wesley says they likely are getting ready to take out the whole audience and that the egg thing Angel found is likely where they are storing the lifeforce. He says they'll have to do an unbinding spell on it. Gunn enters and tells them the puppets are responsible. Framkin's ratings were poor and he made a deal with some devils. Gunn found the record of the deal in the library of demonic congress. But he didn't read the fine print and the devils took over the show. Angel says let's take out some puppets and grabs his sword. They follow him out.

A little girl is watching Smile Time. The lead puppet talks to her from the tv, telling her to touch it. She does and her life force starts to transfer. Puppet Angel shows up and begins fighting with the lead puppet. Gunn slices the head off the dog puppet. The tooting puppet runs to protect the nest egg. Wesley and Fred are in the DON'T room and they start the unbinding spell. The tooting puppet attacks Wesley who tells Fred to continue with the spell. The girl puppet attacks Gunn and he slams her against the camera, knocking her out. The tooting puppet has the best of Wesley and Fred pulls out a gun and shoots it. Puppet Angel puts on his vampire face, becoming puppet vampire Angel and defeats the lead puppet. Wesley pulls off the tooting demon's beak nose and pokes him with it. Air and stuffing gushes out and the demon falls to the ground. Fred finishes the spell. The nest egg bursts open. The little girl is released.

At the office, Nina awakes and thinks she's eaten Angel. Puppet Angel enters and tells her everything is ok and he should be normal in a day or two. He invites her to breakfast. Fred enters Wesley's office and tells him the kids are reviving. Wesley says they should get some rest. Fred starts asking if he hasn't noticed something different about her. She gives up on talking and kisses him, saying it's a signal. She asks if it's clear enough for him. He says not even close. They continue kissing. The self esteem song plays.

Analysis

A reasonably amusing show (who doesn't love the self esteem song) with continuity (Nina), and a couple of interesting plot points being developed (the Fred/Knox/Wesley triangle and Gunn and his mental upgrade). What's not to like in an episode like this. Okay, it's not the dark knight, but once in a while something like this is ok.

Last season, I pointed out that Gunn and Wesley seemed to have reversed. Wesley had become more the man of action and Gunn more cerebral. He was doing lots of thinking and planning and proving he was more than muscle. But, clearly, he doesn't believe that. When the doctor suggests he's little more than a thug without the implant, he falls for it. We've seen signs through the season that Gunn is being corrupted by his implant and this deal is more proof of it. It also demonstrates that the glitch from the last episode wasn't just a glitch. Possibly the senior partners did this to force Gunn to more actively embrace evil. Or possibly the doctor planned it. Or maybe it's part of Eve's revenge scheme. It doesn't much matter at this point. Gunn made a mistake taking the implant in the first place. He's become dependent on it and he's made a second mistake getting it done again. It's no surprise that Fred no longer seems interested in him. He's become obsessed with himself, his newfound power, and that is inherently uninteresting.

While the recent absence of Knox hasn't been explained, at least we're getting some movement on the Fred front. And the jealous Gunn now seems replaced by the jealous Knox, if the look he gave Wesley as he left the lab is anything to go by. Clearly, Wesley has been thinking a lot about his relationship with Fred and more recently trying not to think of it at all. He's been ignoring all the signs, like Fred coming in and asking for a lift. When he talks to Angel about Nina, he's really talking about his relationship with Fred (just in case we're idiots and miss this the script makes it clear by having Fred enter at the point where Angel asks who they're talking about and then Wesley says Fred). It's weird to have Wesley counselling Angel to go for a relationship (given the serious threat if Angel gets happy), but he's clearly thinking more of himself than Angel. And the parallel between the two relationships is ominous. The Angel/Nina relationship has an obvious potential downside, a darkness constantly hovering over it. Which suggests a similar darkness is there for the Fred/Wesley one only we haven't seen it yet.

I'm probably stretching things a bit here, but I think you can find a parallel between the theft of the children's innocence by the puppet demons and what is happening to the gang at Wolfram & Hart. Bit by bit their innocence is being stolen. They've all been attacked in various ways. Angel has been forced to keep a secret (Connor) from his closest friends. Gunn has had his mind taken over (and willingly) and has repeatedly made deals with evil forces. As I noted above, he's fallest first and farthest. Wesley found himself ready to kill his father. Lorne gave in to temptation and used the evil of Wolfram & Hart to remove his sleep, leading to almost tragic consequences. Fred has been the least injured so far, but spoilers for the next couple of weeks suggest that will soon change.

You could easily have ruined this episode with poor use of puppets, but I have to admit they did a great job of the Angel transformation. The puppet had lots of expression, its movement was good, and I loved its transformation into a vampire.

And here's the self esteem song:

Self esteem is for everybody
Self esteem is for everyone
You can dream and be anybody
But self esteem is how you get it done.

Some quick final thoughts. Last week I wrote about characters who are included for no reason except being in the opening credits. Spike was in that role again this week. His fight with Angel wasn't really meaningful and the plot could have been moved ahead without him. He didn't even have a good line. I've seen some posts from viewers complaining about the nudity in this episode. News flash: there was no nudity. Nudity is like pregnancy, you can't be almost pregnant and you can't be almost nude. Nina was always concealed. There was just the thought of nudity. So get your mind out of the gutter. On the other hand, Fred sure does wear short skirts. I love the sight gag of Fred, Gunn, and Wesley marching to combat behind a sword carrying puppet Angel. How many shows could turn their lead character into a puppet, do such a fantastic parody of kid's shows, and have literary references like Flowers for Algernon.I suppose I have to comment on the cancellation of Angel and you can read my comments on that and on Sarah Michelle Gellar apparently not appearing on the show in my Random Reviews - Please don't bring back Angel.

Lines of the week:

"Could be the joker." - Knox making a bad joke.

"I didn't take the discount on the card." - Knox trying to get on Fred's good side.

"Insurance thing." - Angel with the lamest line.

"The ladies are right." - Angel with a terrible realization.

"I do not have puppet cancer." - Angel over reacting.

"We eat babies' lives."
"And uphold a certain standard of quality edutainment." - The puppets on their mission statement.

"I'd call it a little insane." - Nina on Angel's condition.

"They've changed me." - Gunn admitting his upgrade went deeper than he's said.

"I'm not really looking for so much as looking at." - Fred desperately trying to make her point to Wesley.

"You see the last few seasons of Happy Days." - Gunn on the demon puppets in the tv industry.

"Let's take out some puppets." - Angel with one of those lines only the Buffyverse could make work.

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