Thursday, 8 May 2014

ANGEL, 2.10 & 2.11 – 'Reunion' & 'Redefinition'

Thursday, 8 May 2014
DRUSILLA: You have beautiful skin.
LILAH: I moisturize.
DRUSILLA: That was very thoughtful of you.

The climax of "The Trial" was so brimming with promise that I couldn't help feeling disappointed with "REUNION"—although, like a surprising number of episodes, the last quarter-hour salvaged it to some extent. I think my biggest issue is that season 2's already proved that putting Angel (David Boreanaz) and Darla (Julie Benz) together on-screen is a good idea, and has spent awhile making us care about them as a tragic romantic couple across the ages... and this episode, despite being called "Reunion, separated them for much long. And when they were together, I didn't feel the sense of loss I was expecting to. This may be because Darla isn't the human-Darla I've come to enjoy just lately, or maybe it's because Boreanaz still isn't the greatest of screen actors.

I hated how the episode began with Angel being helped back to the Hyperion Hotel by Gunn (J August Richards), which made little sense to me. I'd have liked events to continue from the last episode without skipping a bear, with Angel watching Darla die (again) at the fangs of Drusilla (Juliet Landau), but clearly the writers thought differently. Unfortunately, too much of this episode was taken up with Angel going it alone to stop Darla rising from the dead in a rooftop greenhouse her "granddaughter" had prepared for her. This resulted in fisticuffs of varying quality from the three actor's stunt doubles, before Darla forgave Drusilla, got her groove back... and, um, went shopping.

Thankfully, "Reunion" did manage to stage a comeback, of sorts, when the idiot lawyers at Wolfram & Hart came to realise their slightly nonsensical plan to resurrect Darla has only resulted in them creating a monster they can't control. Worse, they've reunited two hell-bitches with an unquenchable taste for murder, which makes their issues with local nice-guy vampire Angel look highly dubious in comparison.

The one thing I liked about this episode was how it left things. Angel arrived to find Darla and Drusilla holding twenty W&H associates captive at a wine-tasting party, threatening to massacre them, and Angel did the unexpected thing and turned a blind eye because letting Lindsey McDonald (Christian Kane) and his boss Holland Manners (Sam Anderson) die is in his best interest. It was a moment that worked because it made Angel's character feel more complex than usual, with a moral code that's light years away from the good people of Sunnydale on its parent show. I didn't quite understand why he then fired Wes (Alexis Denisoff), Cordy (Charisma Carpenter) and Gunn after they questioned his callousness, but it certainly has me keen to watch the next episode... which is, to some extent, all an hour of television has to do to be considered a success.

But if we've left behind the enjoyable Angel/Darla relationship that was blossoming very nicely, I can only hope it's replaced by something equally interesting. It just feels that vampire-Darla is too straightforward as a character, and can't be reasoned with by virtue of what she is: a soulless killer. Darla the ex-vampire was a lot more interesting to me.

CORDELIA: Darla. It's all about Darla. One thing you can say about Angel, at least he's consistent. It's always some little blonde driving him over the edge.

It makes sense to retool your season halfway through a run, and "REDEFINITION" lived up to its title. In the wake of his beloved Darla being turned back into a vampire, Angel's burned his Darla porn (okay, okay, tasteful nude sketches) and altered his whole approach to his job. He's gone from supernatural gumshoe to one-man army, taking cues from Wesley Snipes in Blade. We won't see a man do as many pull-ups until Stephen Amell perfected that "art form" over a decade later in Arrow.

Elsewhere, Wesley, Cordy and Gunn are adjusting to sudden unemployment—although Gunn's more blasé about getting the sack because his dealing with Angel Investigations was just a side venture. But all three are understandably shocked and hurt that Angel has cast them aside, so collectively they visit Lorne's (Andy Hallett) karaoke bar to sing Queen's "We Are the Champions". So yeah. (Sorry, I still really hate this whole aspect of season 2, as it seems so trivial and pointless to me. An excuse to see the characters embarrass themselves through song.)

There was also movement on the Wolfram & Hart front, as we discovered Darla kept Christian alive during her massacre of the firm's top lawyers with Drusilla. This episode saw stronger material for sexy lawyer Lilal Morgan (Stephanie Romanov), as she tried to frame Christian for what happened to their colleagues, and also resulted in her sharing the job of Executive Vice-President of Projects alongside Christian—until one or the other can prove they deserve the job exclusively. It's still vague exactly why W&H are so interested in Angel, and what plans they have for him, but hopefully that will come. Beyond the fact he's the only vampire with a soul, what's so special about him compared to other vamps?

The situation with Darla and Drusilla was also better this episode, although the latter's sing-song voice is beginning to irritate me again. I quite like what Juliet Landau does with the role, but sometimes the dialogue she's given just makes me cringe. Still, Darla and Drusilla recruiting an army of demons to destroy the city is a lot more promising than them buying new dresses.

Incidentally, I noticed this episode felt a lot more urban than usual. This season as a whole has improved on that front over the first year, but "Redefinition" took things a step further. Angel slaughtering vamps in a sewer, before torturing one by dunking him in a water hole... the demon fight club sequence.. it all made the show feel more real and dangerous than ever before. I'm pleased Angel is beginning to solidify an identity that feels its own, even if you're always reminded this comes from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer stable because of all the smart-ass dialogue.

written by Tim Minear & Shawn Ryan (2.10) & Mere Smith (2.11) | directed by James A. Contner (2.10) & Michael Grossman (2.11) | 19 December 2000 & 16 January 2001