Thursday, 27 March 2014

ANGEL, 2.5 & 2.6 – 'Dear Boy' & 'Guise Will Be Guise'

Thursday, 27 March 2014
DARLA: But I'm still me. I remember everything, Angel. Everything we did, everything we can do.

Angel follows Buffy the Vampire Slayer's lead in demystifying its biggest mystery suspiciously early in the season, as "DEAR BOY" disclosed the return of ex-girlfriend Darla (Julie Benz) to Angel (David Boreanaz), then had the two draw their battle lines in the sand. A big disappointment was realising how pointless Darla invading Angel's dreams like a sexy Freddy Kruger ultimately was, seeing as her plan in this episode didn't seem to hinge on that in the slightest. Why did she bother?

While I was irritated Angel's wet dreams didn't have much bearing on matters, Darla's plan to torture Angel was still a lot of fun. It wasn't a hugely original idea to frame Angel as a stalker, but it made sense and was moderately clever. I also liked how the plan was more "real world". BtVS and Angel often involve supernatural baddies with hilariously grand and absurd plans for world domination and/or destruction, so it was great to see Darla operating as a spurned lover doing her best to get her lover back. It was also a surprise to realise Darla's been reborn human, which she used to her advantage by swanning back into Angel's life and convincing onlookers she's an innocent married woman called DeEtta Kramer, while making Angel appear to be a creepy madman.

I was less enamoured with more of those trite flashbacks to a time when Darla and Angelus were head-over-heels in love, as the show feels very cheap whenever it has to become a period piece. Boreanaz's Irish accent also remains laughable to my English ears, but at least the offending dialect is quiet. However, it was certainly an unexpected treat to see how Drusilla (Juliet Landau) was "turned" into a vampire, in the centuries before she hooked up with Spike from BtVS. The fact Drusilla was a lunatic, and her transformation into an immortal vampire was designed to be a never-ending torment was also a nice touch, and colours the relationship I remember about Angel and Drusilla from a few seasons ago on BtVS.

"Dear Boy" also signalled the return of cynical Detective Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm), whom I assumed would have been cast aside this season because the actress stinks. But no, it seems the writers have put too much work into Lockley's character to abandon her this season—and it's true that having a human cop, who knows Angel's a vampire, but nevertheless believes his activities endangers the lives of innocent people, is a spiky idea to throw into the mix. I just wish Röhm wasn't the actress they chose for the part, although to be fair she wasn't unbearable here.

Much of this episode hinged on the relationship between Angel and Darla, and it helps that Boreanaz and Benz have chemistry when they're together on-screen. You can completely believe Darla just wants her "dear boy" back, so they can continue making havoc as a vampiric Bonnie & Clyde (as describe by Cordelia), and you can often sense Angel's desire for the same bubbling up to the surface. A lot of Angel's character is defined by his history and behaviour around women, actually, and what Darla churns up in his psyche is certainly more compelling than most other combinations.

Overall, "Dear Boy" was a smart and convincing episode for the most part, tainted by a few disappointments along the way. I'm dismayed we're still getting scenes with karaoke-loving Lorne (Andy Hallett) at this bar, as that whole joke seems to have run its course and I don't find that character in the least bit interesting or fun. (Anyone else think he resembles Quentin Tarantino mid-Hulk transformation, too?) There are also only so many scenes of David Boreanaz singing badly I can take.

T'ISH MAGEV: You're deeply ambivalent.
ANGEL: Yeah, well, I am and I'm not.

I enjoyed certain aspects of "GUISE WILL BE GUISE", but it felt like it squandered its potential in some respects. Here, Angel is advised by Lorne to seek therapy about Darla's reappearance from a swami he knows called T'ish Magev (Art LaFleur), so he leaves L.A just as a powerful businessman comes looking for him—prompting Wesley (Alexis Denisoff) to pose as Angel, accepting a mission to protect his new client's daughter Virginia (Brigid Brannagh).

For a sizeable chunk of this episode, it was great fun seeing Wesley pretend to be a vampire and utterly failing (entering homes without being asked, touching crucifixes, being expected to drink complimentary glasses of blood), and in general I like episodes where Wesley's the focus and, in this instance, even gets a decent love-story with the woman he's paid to protect. There wasn't really enough time to develop this relationship, but Denisoff and Brannagh made it work in the limited space of time. It was also amusing to see Angel take advice from the most unlikely of gurus, as T'ish Magev was closer to Tony Soprano than the foreign mystic you were expecting. Indeed, it later became clear Magev, like Wesley, was an impostor working for a rival of Virginia's father—who was planning to sacrifice his daughter on his 50th birthday and inherit a great power in the process.

As that last sentence suggests, "Guise Will Be Guise" grew into a very silly episode once the novelty of Wesley and Angel's situations had worn off, and writer Jane Espenson didn't quite manage to draw everything together into a satisfying conclusion. The comedy elements of this episode worked very well, and the Wesley/Virginia romance appealed, but then the nonsense with the demon-summoning gangsters soured the whole thing for me. But I hope this marks the beginning of smarter writing for Wesley, who has the potential to be one of the best characters of Buffy or Angel, but who too often gets lumbered with 'awkward Englishman' routines.

written by David Greenwalt (2.5) & Jane Espenson (2.6) | directed by David Greenwalt (2.5) & Krishan Rao (2.6) | 24 October & 7 November 2000