Thursday, 13 March 2014

ANGEL, 2.3 & 2.4 – 'First Impressions' & 'Untouched'

Thursday, 13 March 2014
ANGEL: Why are you so good to me after everything I did?
DARLA: Because... you and I are one.

It seems Angel Investigations are using the once-haunted Hyperion Hotel as their new base of operations, which certainly gives the show a cool new interior to use every week—although renting such a huge property filled with dozens of unnecessary rooms doesn't make much sense. It's overkill, but I'm glad Angel's demon-hunters have a grandiose HQ that ensures you have to take them seriously, on some level, and there was an attempt to make it seem plausible by involving nerdy millionaire David Nabbit (David Herman) as a financial advisor.

I'm not far into season 2, but I can see the changes bleeding through clearer now. The story behind "FIRST IMPRESSIONS" was almost entirely pointless, and certainly boring, but it worked as a framework to demonstrate some of the show's improvements. As I noticed a few episodes back, there's clearly more effort to showcase Los Angeles as a city. The characters are out on the streets more often, and this makes Angel feel like it's developing its own identity—so it's not just Buffy the Vampire Slayer with darker alleys and higher rooftops.

Gunn (J. August Richards) is also proving to be a welcome addition, and not just because his streetwise attitude feels more authentic for the environment (compared to the other out-of-towners). Angel (David Boreanaz) kind of fits in because of his attire and film star looks, but pretty Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) has zero edge, and Wes (Alexis Denisoff) is from a whole other country and social class. This season's already a lot richer with Gunn around, and I liked how this episode played up his obvious differences to Cordy—who became his fish-out-of-water companion as he tried to locate a demon called Deevak (Alan Shaw), and took sweet Cordelia to various scummy residences. My only issue right now is that Gunn's not very funny (on almost any level) and the likes of Cordy and Wes are perhaps too comical and not authentic enough for the edgier vibe this season's trying to create. There's clearly more work to be done in striking a happy medium, but this was a good enough start.

Interestingly, this hour marks the debut of writer Shawn Ryan—who would go on to carve a big name for himself in US television, as creator of The Shield, Terriers, The Chicago Code and Last Resort. Tellingly, none of his own shows share much DNA with Angel, and it was obvious this wasn't a very amusing episode (the issue with Angel being embarrassed to wear a pink motorcycle helmet was much too broad), so my feeling is that Ryan's writing will inject verisimilitude but won't bring 'the funny'.

The other thing of note in "First Impressions" was the reveal that Angel's already bewitched by his resurrected maker Darla (Julie Benz), who's visiting him in his dreams—kind of like a succubus, draining him of energy for when he needs it after the sun goes down. This feels like it's going to be the big problem for Angel (who doesn't seem to remember his Darla-starring 'wet dreams'), and it's unusual enough to grab my interest—plus, well, Benz is ridiculously hot in femme fatale mode.

BETHANY: So, are you and Angel...?
CORDELIA: Oh, no. I like my men less broody and more spendy.

I'm surprised co-creator Joss Whedon directed "UNTOUCHED", as seeing his name prominently on the credits of either Angel or BtVS usually means the material justifies his time. I didn't think was very true here, although matters improved once the week's damsel-in-stress started to demonstrate an unexpected personality and back-story...

The damsel in question is Bethany Chaulk (Daisy McCrackin); a runaway teenager who escaped an abusive father and has unbridled telekinesis. The sinister legal firm Wolfram & Hart are keen to use Bethany as an assassin, so have their associate Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov) become her room-mate in an effort to groom her, while making plans to reintroduce Bethany to her violent parent. While I understand the desire to get W&H involved in the season, their interest in Bethany never made sense to me. If they're after a telekinetic assassin, that's fine, but they're grooming her in completely the wrong manner. And if they just want to make her have a Carrie-style outburst when faced with her father, that's surely a very limited plan because the necessary shock will only work a few times at the most. The Whedon-affiliated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has actually done a better job dramatising the idea of a sinister agency manipulating "super" people into becoming enslaved assassins.

There was a lot that felt wrong or unconvincing about this hour, but I did like the character of Bethany as a fragile human being—who only sees herself as an object for men and has obvious psychological issues. The scene where she wanders into the sleeping Angel's bedroom and offers to sleep with him, just because, was surprisingly mature for this show.

Beyond the storyline with Bethany, we discovered that Darla is using a drug called Calynthia to plague and manipulate Angel's dreams—which is slightly less impressive than my imagination was expecting, but an appreciated piece of information nonetheless. Ultimately then, "Untouched" had some good ideas and characterisation, but none of it really grabbed me—and, actually, it reminded me how ill-equipped Angel is as a private detective. He can't do any viable detecting during daylight hours (or get burnt to ashes), and can't even snoop around where suspects live because he hasn't been invited inside? It's crazy.

written by Shawn Ryan (2.3) & Mere Smith (2.4) | directed by James A. Contner (2.3) & Joss Whedon (2.4) | 10 & 17 October 2000