ANGEL: The part that scares me -- are all the questions, you know: Why is the sky blue? Why do people get sick? Why is there always pigs' blood in the fridge? I don't have all the answers. Well, I do to that last one.After the breakneck pace of recent episodes, climaxing with the shock death of vampire Darla during childbirth, "DAD" was a quieter hour and a chance for the characters to have a breather, take stock of their situations, and make loose plans for the future. Angel (David Boreanaz) had the inevitable 'new daddy' troubles of trying to get his baby son to sleep, even resorting to making silly faces; Wolfram & Hart regrouped, with Lilah (Stephanie Romanov) forced to painstakingly research the mysterious goatee'd vampire killer who's arrived in town; and Holtz (Keith Szarabajka) himself took charge of the situation from Sahjhan (Jack Conley), and has began recruiting warriors who share his deep desire to kill Angel because they have relatives who fell prey to vampires...
There was enough here to keep "Dad" entertaining, as the show took some time to refocus itself. I was just a little surprised Darla's death didn't leave much of an impact on Angel, seeing as she was his true love for centuries. You could argue the over-protection of his son, later named Connor, was evidence of him upholding Darl's final wish, and therefore a sign of his deep love for her, but I felt like more could have been done. Darla was a major character for the show, and one of the most significant to Angel in particular. Her death was effective, if slightly abrupt, but I expected more discussion of her sacrifice.
Watching this episode prepare the ground for the second half of season 3 was certainly enjoyable, thankfully. The exact nature of the prophecy concerning Connor is still to be determined, and I liked how Angel's vow to protect his son was sometimes at odds with common sense about his vampiric disadvantages—nicely brought up by Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who politely reminded him he can't exactly take Connor outside to play in the sunshine, or to a hospital for treatment during daylight hours.
One thing that's bugging me this season is how W&H continue to be written as both hugely important people with vast resources at their disposal, and yet they're always playing catch-up. It's never fun when the audience is several steps ahead of characters, so it was exasperating to only now see them realise Holtz is a vampire slayer from Angel's past. There's just something about W&H that feels incompetent to me; as they talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk. They may have successfully bugged the Hyperion Hotel, so they can eavesdrop on Angel's team, but even that was scuppered thanks to Lorne's (Andy Hallett) super-hearing, leading to Angel bursting into Linwood's (John Rubinstein) conference and threatening him in front of Lilah and Gavin (Daniel Dae Kim). How I wish W&H felt like a more powerful menace that even Angel daren't tangle with, but they keep coming across as amateurs in design suits to me.
On the positive side, I'm enjoying Holtz as a resolute killer whose family tragedy won't sway him off course. I like the new development that he's building a team of bad-asses whose lives have also been affected by vampires, and look forward to him becoming a sort of male-Buffy who relies on skill and deviousness over snark and superpowers.
Oh, and can we have more of that hilariously matter-of-fact Files and Records employee, who's a living fountain of knowledge when it comes to the W&H's vast archives?
written by David H. Goodman • directed by Fred Keller • 10 December 2001 • The WB
ANGEL: Did you get the information?Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) is a character who's primarily informed by two things: she has visions and her dreams of becoming a successful actress. There isn't much else to her, as she's outgrown her Buffy the Vampire Slayer-era bitchiness. I like Carpenter's upbeat performances, but Cordy's definitely someone in need of some refurbishment. I'm not convinced "BIRTHDAY" will mark the moment she became a more layered and interesting person, but it was certainly a very pleasant hour that combined lots of things Angel does well.
LORNE: Oh, why, yes, Angel. My horn should grow back in a couple of days. So kind of you to be concerned.
After lamenting how she'll never win an Oscar (psst, important foreshadowing!), Cordy suffers an excruciating precognitive vision that sends her into a strange coma. As a result, Cordy finds herself existing as a ghostly 'astral projection' her friends can't see or hear, which makes directing them them to an imminent demon attack impossible. Not that it matters too much, because Cordy's soon met by Alien/Pinhead lovechild demon Skip (David Denman) from the episode "Billy", who reveals she was never supposed to be given the visions Doyle passed onto her before he died, so she has a choice: return to her body, and die from the pain of her next vision; or have history rewritten around her, so her life with Angel Investigations is annulled and she instead gets to become the famous title character of Friends-like TV sitcom It's Cordy!
Firstly, I was bewildered to realise Cordelia's supposed to have just turned 21, knowing that Charisma Carpenter was 32 at the time—but guess that's not usual for U.S television, which rarely seems to cast teenagers with actors under-25. It also confused me that Cordy's first thought after becoming an apparition wasn't to go find her phantom housemate Dennis, who even appears in this episode as an "Invisible Man" wearing an elasticated party hat. Maybe a scene got cut for time.
I loved seeing demon Skip back on the show, however, having made a good impression awhile back—although he wasn't as funny this time out, with the only incongruities between his sinister appearance and humdrum lifestyle being his film-watching habits (loves The Matrix, dislikes Gladiator). It felt like his role was perhaps intended for a different 'demon guide', but unexpected positivity concerning David Denman's performance compelled the producers to cast him again?
Anyway, I rarely dislike alternate universe episodes, so "Birthday" went down very nicely. Cordelia actually took centre stage throughout the entire episode, which was great to watch, and she wasn't turned into a damsel to be rescued at any point (if we ignore that no-eyed demon attack in Reseda). On the contrary, she actually managed to get herself out of trouble without much intervention or help from her friends—soon realising her existence as a sitcom star was a false reality, before meeting the alternate versions of her demon-slaying team. Wes (Alexis Denisoff) had lost an arm in battle, and now takes the lead alongside Gunn (J. August Richards), and it's Angel who inherited Doyle's visions and has thus become a half-crazed recluse. The latter change didn't make much sense to be, unfortunately, because why can't a vampire handle the Powers That Be's visions either? Aren't they just a type of demon? Am I splitting hairs? It was also a shame the makeup team singularly failed to make David Boreanaz look like a hermit who's been living in a room with two old mattresses for years. They just removed his shoes and an assistance ruffled his hair before they called 'action'.
The upshot of "Birthday" was a few changes to Cordelia's character, but I'll reserve judgement on the success of that for now. It could be interesting that she's been made part-demon to cope with the trauma of her visions, but if she's now going to levitate while having them... um, is that an improvement? The way Cordy would wail like a banshee and usually collapse when a vision struck was incredibly annoying, but at least it was easy to explain away to onlookers. Floating off the ground? Good luck with that one, folks.
written by Mere Smith • directed by Michael Grossman • 14 January 2002 • The WB