Thursday, 9 July 2015

ANGEL, 3.20 – 'A New World' • BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 6.17 – 'Normal Again'

Thursday, 9 July 2015
GUNN: Couple weeks ago, he was wearin' diapers. Now he's a teenager?
CORDELIA: Tell me we don't live in a soap opera.
My amusement that a 23-year-old Vincent Kartheiser is playing Angel's (David Boreanaz) stolen son Connor subsided during "A NEW WORLD", as this hour proved to be unexpectedly great and did exactly what was required of it. Chiefly, Connor already feels like a very interesting addition to the hit-and-miss ensemble, and Kartheiser plays him with a great deal of spryness, enthusiasm, and commitment. He wasn't as ridiculous as the prospect of Mad Men's Pete Campbell playing a young bad-ass dressed in animal skins could have been, which was a huge relief.

Better than Kartheiser, in some respects, was how this hour moved the show into much more visually appealing territory. It's always hard to judge shows that existed pre-2005, because U.S production values have become ridiculously high over the past decade, but Angel always felt quite lo-fi to me. But here, there were some genuinely exciting and well-choreographed fight sequences (heavily influenced by The Matrix, as most things from 2002 were), and the show took Connor into a Los Angeles that felt very real. I particularly loved the bleached-out shots down by a flood channel beneath a freeway bridge, where Connor helped save heroin addict Sunny (Erika Thormahlen) from drug dealer Tyke (Anthony Starke) and his street gang. And, frankly, pretty much every scene where we weren't in the Hyperion Hotel or just walking around a dark set. There seemed to be a lot more location shooting throughout "A New World", and I hope that's going to be something that continues. It strikes me as a shame Angel concerns a nocturnal vampire, sometimes, because L.A is the kind of city that only really comes to life in the bright sunshine.

This was an episode aiming to introduce Connor into proceedings, and I thought they did a very good job. The boy's understandably paranoid and used to surviving on his wits after spending two decades trapped in a hell dimension. And, predictably, he's had years of his "father" Holtz (Keith Szarabajka) poisoning his mind against his biological vampire dad, which means his relationship with Angel is going to have to break through some very tough, ingrained psychological barriers. But there were already signs that Connor's willing to accept Angel isn't the family-killing monster he's been told about, and that Earth has some good qualities to relish—such as his brief but enjoyable flirtation with Sunny at an abandoned motel, before she died of an overdose slumped over the bath tub. Okay, that wasn't so good, but I presume his first kiss counterbalanced things. Slightly.

This supporting storylines weren't much to get excited about, as Lorne (Andy Hallett) sought help from Mistress Meerna (Deborah Zoe) to close the portal to Quor'Toth before any other monsters come through; and Wes (Alexis Denisof) was offered a job at Wolfram & Hart by visiting Lilah (Stephanie Romanov). I'm interested to see what happens with Wes after his betrayal, it's true, but still have a feeling the show's going to find a lazy way to get him back in Angel's good books. Now that Connor isn't lost forever, it already feels like forgiveness isn't too far away. But it would be vastly more interesting if Wes did join W&H, for awhile, but we'll see how things develop. I just hope the promise this hour had is to be repeated, because the show is maturing for the better.


written by Jeffrey Bell • directed by Tim Minear • 6 May 2002 • The WB

JOYCE: I know you're afraid. I know the world feels like a hard place, sometimes. But you've got people who love you. Your dad and I, we have all the faith in the world in you. We'll always be with you. You have got a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself.
In "NORMAL AGAIN", the tedious Trio manifest a demon using a didgeridoo (no, seriously), which attacks their nemesis Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and stabs her with a skewer protruding from its forearm. Instantly, Buffy finds herself in a mental hospital in a white gown; the patient of a doctor (Michael Warren) who believes she's suffered a psychotic breakdown, believing herself to be a superhero saving the world from monsters. Fortunately, Buffy's able to flit between her two realities, but which is genuine? And would she prefer to accept she's a lunatic, if it means existing in a reality where her mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) never died and is still married to her father? Of course, that means she'll never again see sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg)? Hang on, this is win-win.

The core idea behind this episode was unoriginal but fun, it's just that I didn't like how writer Diego Gutierrez chose to approach it. It would have worked better if we'd just started with Buffy in the hospital, rather than give us a tangible reason to doubt those scenes from the very start. The idea of a hero having to choose between two worlds has been done many times, but it's usually more compelling than I found this. To see it done properly, watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Far Beyond the Stars".

I was never sold on the idea Buffy may actually be a mental patient who's imagined the past six years, as the only "evidence" put forward by the doctor was the ridiculousness of her life as a vampire slayer. And sure, it's ridiculous—but we're watching a television show and suspension of disbelief is part of the deal, so trying to make me think 'oh yeah, hang on, this whole thing does seem a little unlikely, now you mention it' doesn't fly.

This episode may have worked better as a series finale, because at least then you'd be wondering if the show's writers are going to be brave enough to undo the entire show. If they did, that would be a legendarily contentious way to ends things! And even then I doubt they'd ever go through with it, because why do that? "Normal Again" actually did end on an ambiguous note, as Buffy apparently decided to believe in her existence as a Slayer, but the story itself only ended with a scene of Buffy in the corner of her hospital room, "gone" as the doctor describes things to her parents. An amusingly dark way to end things, as it means you could probably decide to believe Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a hallucination, but would anyone seriously do that? Overall, I just though this hour was a missed opportunity, and a disappointment considering it got Kristine Sutherland back on the show. Buffy didn't even seem to behave very plausibly, when presented with her dead mother being alive and well.


written by Diego Gutierrez • directed by Rick Rosenthal • 12 March 2002 • UPN