Thursday, 19 March 2015

ANGEL, 3.5 & 3.6 – 'Fredless' & 'Billy'

Thursday, 19 March 2015
CORDELIA: Guys, when was the last time Fred ever left the hotel by herself?
GUNN: A couple weeks after never.
I loved Amy Acker on Joss Whedon's hugely underestimated sci-fi series Dollhouse, but haven't warmed to her feckless Fred on Angel—until now, sort of. "FREDLESS" wasn't a very successful episode in terms of making us reassess Fred as a three-dimensional woman, but it at least humanised her more, and appears to have ended this season's arc with Fred as a shut-in who doodles on her bedroom walls.

In this episode, Fred's parents—Roger (Gary Grubbs) and Trish (Jennifer Griffin)—arrive from Texas after receiving word their missing daughter's now living there. Understandably suspicious of the oddball clique Fred's calls her friends, and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery over her whereabouts for the past five years, much of this episode was played for laughs—with Angel (David Boreanaz) and his team forced to pretend they're "normal people", by pretending to be involved in the making of monster movies and suchlike. Meanwhile, upon realising her parents have managed to track her down to L.A, Fred flees to the Caritas lounge bar and confides to Lorne (Andy Hallett) that accepting the reality of her mother and father means accepting her five years in Pylea actually happened.

Uhhh... to be honest, I didn't really buy into the reasoning behind Fred's distress at seeing her parents. I think season 3's done a very poor job writing Fred as a traumatised woman, with heavy-handed clichés instead of subtlety—so I'm relieved they've only wasted five episodes before bringing this whole sorry idea to a close. Maybe now Fred's accepted her past, and has painted over her bedroom scribblings with emulsion, she can become an active and intelligent part of the team and not just a quirky hanger-on. I just wish we could have reached this point without having to sit through a monumentally dull 'meet the parents' hour, only really enlivened by an effective practical suit effect for a giant Durslar bug-demon thingummy.

(Oh, and I know the off-screen meeting of resurrected Buffy and Angel was told in a comic-book in the summer of 2002, but denying audiences the reunion in either of the actual shows… well, that sucks.)


written by Mere Smith • directed by Marita Grabiak • 22 October 2001 • The WB

BILLY: I don't hate women. I mean, sure you're all whores who sell yourselves for money or prestige, but men are just as bad. Maybe even worse. They're willing to throw away careers or families or even lives for what's under your skirt.
CORDELIA: I'm wearing pants.
"BILLY" was a far more satisfying hour, even if the broad strokes of the storyline felt very obvious and certain things were too foreshadowed. What worked was the episode's interesting opponent, Billy Blim (Justin Shilton), whom Angel released from a Hell dimension at the behest of Wolfram & Hart in order to save Cordelia. It turns out Billy is the nephew of an East Coast political mover-and-shaker, which make him even more untouchable than expected—and, ironically, it's Billy's touch that has the power to turn men into violent, misogynist pigs. An ability he's making full use of around L.A, with particular repercussion for Wes (Alexis Denisof) after he comes into contact with a blood-stain handprint belonging to Billy…

I often find that both Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are at their best during episode that put an emphasis on the lead characters, and their relationships—so, while Billy was the catalyst for a lot of craziness, this episode mainly worked because it temporarily transformed quietly-spoken nice-guy Wes into a face-slapping, sexist, axe-wielding madman… stalking poor Fred through the corridors of the Hyperion like a Shining-era Jack Nicholson. It was kind of obvious the plot would move in that direction, having opened with scenes where Wes is suddenly confiding in Cordy about his romantic feelings for Fred, but nevertheless it was a tense sequence that gave Denisof a juicy chance to play villain. And he did it surprisingly well.

Given my gripes with Cordelia as a character, I was also pleased this episode addressed some of thise continuing issues. She's not being trained by Angel in the art of combat, so will presumably become a more physical threat to the monsters they face, instead of the wise-cracking young woman who triggers their weekly cases with her head-visions. The fact she felt responsible for Billy's existence in the world, and went rogue to take him down single-handed, also really helped turn Cordy into a more proactive go-getter than usual. Hopefully this will continue, as it seems Fred is being groomed to take over as the more innocent person everyone wants to protect—and yet she, too, isn't a complete pushover, as she successfully fended off the nefarious advances of Gunn (J. August Richards) and Wesley. All told, "Billy" was a good hour that managed to make Angel's two female characters feel less like window-dressing and more like valuable, intelligent, practical members of the team.


written by Tim Minear & Jeffrey Bell • directed by David Grossman • 29 October 2001 • The WB