Thursday, 1 May 2014

ANGEL, 2.8 & 2.9 – 'The Shroud of Rahmon' & 'The Trial'

Thursday, 1 May 2014
ANGEL: I hate waiting. You got anybody to eat around here?

It seems like forever since I reviewed Angel (owing to the fact I'm following this site's chronology alongside Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but now we're back with "THE SHROUD OF RAHMON". This was an hour I enjoyed, but aspects of it suggested something more intelligent and complex than what was ultimately delivered The cold opening with Wesley (Alexis Denisoff) being interviewed by two cops about a murder was very inciting, but the flashbacks to explain his predicament just weren't as engrossing and revelatory as I was expecting.

That's not to say "The Shroud of Rahmon" was a bad episode. It just wasn't as thrilling as it might have been, despite a fun set-up as a supernatural caper with Angel (David Boreanaz) posing as a flashy vampire called Jay-don, who agrees to be part of a demonic team who intend to steal a powerful burial shroud from the city's Natural History Museum.

There were a lot of funny quirks and witty moments in this episode, which helped elevate what was a fairly straightforward hour in terms of drama. I loved seeing Angel acting out of character (given more colourful wardrobe and dialogue), and the way his recent antagonism with Gunn (J. August Richards) bled into their undercover roles worked well. It was also the best episode for Detective Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm) in a very long time; mainly because it ended this annoying period of her being a thorn in Angel's side and opposed to everything he represents as a vampire. I'm still not a fan of her character, but there are signs this episode is the beginning of something better—certainly after Angel was forced to drink her blood to maintain his cover, and appears to have had his blood-lust awakened as a result...

The Ocean's Eleven-like museum-robbers were also entertaining, and it was fun seeing genre legend Tony Todd (Candyman, Star Trek) again covered in latex playing a sonorous monster. The scene where he calmly tore off an irritating security guard's head was a clear highlight. And there's always going to be entertainment value in episodes where characters act off-kilter, as the titular shroud turned Wesley and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) slightly crazy once they arrived on the scene to help Angel.

Overall, while there weren't many obvious flaws to this episode's storyline, and it progressed the situation between Angel and Lockley into a better place, it was only really solid entertainment rather than anything transcendent. The opening was so intriguing that I perhaps just expected something deeper and more memorable, but it was still a fun story and highly amusing in places. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if Wesley's interrogation bookends had been excised...

ANGEL: How could The Powers allow you to be brought back, dangle a second chance and take it away like this?
DARLA: Maybe this is my second chance.
ANGEL: To die?
DARLA: Yes. To die. The way I was supposed to die in the first place.

There's no doubt the complex love-hate situation between Angel and Darla (Julie Benz) has been a highlight of this season, thanks largely to the fact those characters have a rich history together and the two actors have tangible sexual chemistry. However, it's beginning to dominate matters too much for my taste, so I was glad "THE TRIAL" ended with a significant change to the idea Darla's human and Angel's trying to convince her to lead a good life. The life she was originally denied.

I wasn't swept along by this episode's story, but it had moments that popped beautifully—although I think the flashbacks are becoming a crutch for Angel. It's understandable why they're used (you're dealing with characters that have existed for a long time), but they can feel a little tacked on. The big dilemma at the heart of "The Trial" was Darla being informed she's dying of syphilis (the infection that almost claimed her life before she was turned into a vampire). Naturally, she eyed the obvious solution (submit to being transformed into a vampire once again), but Angel was adamant this wasn't the path to take. In his mind, Darla deserves a full life as a human being, not a return to the soulless bitch he once fell out with.

The trial of the title didn't occur until very late in proceedings, and managed to rescue what was slipping into a so-so hour (although the sequence of Darla trying to woo a virginal vampire at a flea-pit bar was priceless). But it wasn't until Angel decided to grant Darla a resurrection by entering another dimension where a mysterious Valet (Jim Piddock) will replenish her life if Angel passes three trials: kill a demon, retrieve a key from inside a basin of holy water, and a sacrifice himself to a grid of spring-loaded wooden stakes. These were all good fun (especially the violent brawl with the demon), although it didn't take a genius to realise Angel's sacrifice wasn't going to happen because the Valet was only testing his nerve. But it did work in terms of communicating exactly how much Angel loves human-Darla, and wants her to embrace a second chance at a human life, while the cruel twist that she can't be resurrected twice came as a genuine surprise.

Overall, "The Trial" was a good episode, but the really memorable moments came in the last act. Everything from the trials onwards was better than everything before, and I especially loved the heart-stopping denouement—with Angel and Darla accepting her mortality, only for Wolfram & Hart's Lindsey (Christian Kane) to break into their hotel room and watch as Drusilla (Juliet Landau) turned Darla back into a vampire. The pain in Angel's eyes as he watched his human soul mate essentially lose her actual soul, to be "saved" from death in the worst way imaginable, was a very tragic and moving moment. I'm guessing the next episode will make the feeling of anguish even more acute, if Darla's back to being the super-bitch from those incessant flashbacks.

written by Jim Kouf (2.8) & Doug Petrie & Tim Minear (2.9) | directed by David Grossman (2.8) & Bruce Seth Green (2.9) | 21 & 28 November 2000