In the Dark
Written by: Douglas Petrie
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green
Air Date: Oct. 19, 1999

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Any episode that features Spike is a winner, for me. Coming hot off the heels of the previous episode of “BtVS”, “In the Dark” picks up with Spike having followed his magical ring into L.A., where it is carried straight to Angel Investigations by Oz, the werewolf-boy from Sunnydale. Seth Green’s major role in this episode is the same as it is on its parent show: dry wit and sarcasm. And, yet again, he performs this without effort. His dialogue upon meeting up with Cordelia again for the first time is not only a perfect reflection of what its like for ex-high school classmates to meet again for the first time, but it is telling of their characters. Its a well done moment, to be sure.

This leads to some knock-down, drag out brawl between Angel and Spike for the ring, one that Spike never really gets the upper hand in at all. But for once, he seems to have outsmarted this new group. I wager he’s had such bad luck with the Scooby gang, Angel’s ragtag posse is too underformed for it to really give him much hassle. He easily baits Angel into a trap and captures the “big poof” for torture, lectures, and a lot of British yelling. Marsters again acts circles around his vampire counterpart, lending so much depth to the character, and to his understanding of the characters around him. His opening bit where he voices out the actions of Angel saving a damsel in distress is written for laughs, but it gets at a deeper nature of his character, one who often times is right on the money with his interpretations and analyses of the other characters.

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The central issue for Angel, though, is the central issue his character has been on since his debut: the idea of making up for his mistakes, for countering his sins. He is looking for redemption. He has a ring given to him that not only makes him invincible, but it allows him to walk in the sun. His love for Buffy is still strong and here he is given an opportunity to be with her, to walk in the world with her at all times, not just in the night. He could have everything. But its too powerful a gift for him to deal with. Like he tells Marcus, the expertly acted torturing vampire, he feels as though he hasn’t earned that peace yet. He hasn’t done enough to deserve a reward of that kind. In fact, the issue of rewards will be a big part of his character for a bit, even in regards to charging for his services. Cordelia prints an invoice and Doyle says its not like the damsel will pay now that she is out of distress. Angel wants to do good because he is making the world better, not for personal gain. If he’d ask, they’d probably pay.

I’ve mentioned before how the way “Angel” is shot is different, darker even than the way “BtVS” is shot and that couldn’t be more true than when comparing one episode featuring Spike to another. Both in lighting and in tone of narrative, one of the reasons I love “Angel” a bit too much is because of this difference. Spike says some nasty shit to Buffy in his last appearance, but here he is shown actively enjoying torture and, also, participating in it. We don’t see it, but we hear the screams. But even though he is portrayed with this minute level of inconsistency, it feels real and believable because the stakes are greater. He had the ring earlier, when he fought Buffy. Here he is fighting to get it back. He gets some laughs (particularly when his hair starts on fire near the episode’s end), sure, but he is out for blood. Angel says it, Cordelia believes it, Doyle gets to experience it for the first time.

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Speaking of Doyle, more of his character comes out, here, too. We see him being a defending type and we see him attempt to use his contacts in the underbelly of the world, making call after call trying to get info on Spike’s whereabouts. We know, from previous episodes, that he is both a half-demon and also someone with a dark past just waiting to bite him in the ass. Here we get more dirt on the kind of life he was leading prior to having his first run-in with Angel. Its telling of his character, though, that he attempts to cover it up, showing both growth as a person and as a character.

The final sequence involving the nasty pedophile vampire out in the daylight is awesome, too. It adds a new level of fear and terror for their race. Spike got a little time with the ring earlier, but it wasn’t really put to use in a scary way. He just punched a blonde woman a few times. Here, Marcus gets to be eerie and chilling, stalking some boy scouts on the pier. And the fact that he is unkillable doesn’t make him any less threatening. The beatdown Angel gives him under the dock, and the easy way he removes the ring from his finger (is it just me or is that a pretty easily exploitable weakness for a magical ‘can’t-kill-me’ device?) is also cool. But not as cool as Angel smashing the ring to release both the gem’s power and himself from temptation. He means to fight the good fight on the terms presented to him, not on a suddenly uneven playing field. Kudos to him.

Episode Rating: 90

Additional Notes:
-Spike’s exclamation over seeing Cordelia again is funny, but seemingly out of character. Did he really get to know her name?
-The B plot with the damsel in distress never really goes anywhere and feels wasted
-I love crossovers like this, and will continue to. This season of “Angel” has the best ones, though Angel shows up on Buffy’s show once a season
-First episode of the series to not have a vision, though Doyle comically states he wishes he would get one to block his hangover
-Doyle’s use of his demon powers to find the ring is ingenious and cleverly done
-Spike’s best laid plan to date still fails. Poor Spike. At least he doesn’t have Harmony hanging around.