Angel
Directed by: Scott Brazil
Written by: David Greenwalt
Air Date: April 14, 1997

Let’s just call this episode like it is: Sexual tension. That’s what it all amounts to, here. From the first moment Buffy and Angel have alone inside her house (while he’s shirtless and she’s literally two inches from  his face) to the moment Angel has Darla pinned to the wall, this episode is all about how many women in the Buffyverse wanna bone Angel. And that’s OK. This is a show for women, more or less, and so having a chick able to land a hot older dude (“224  years old” in fact) is acceptable. So why do I like this episode as much as I do? Two little words: “story” and “character”.

Most of the “monster-of-the-week” episodes are fun and interesting (once), but don’t bring much to the table as far as narrative development is concerned. Now, this is from either the standpoint of the story’s development, or the development of the characters. But, really, The Master, Darla, Angel, and – really – even the main Scoobies are all left without much to do throughout the season, thus far. “Angel” changes that by bringing the seemingly lame and uninteresting bad guys to the forefront and reminding us all of why these guys are the bad guys: they are menacing, they are interesting, and they are developed well. Check The Master’s reactions to, well, anything Darla does, for example. Of special note, his lamenting the loss of Darla after 400 years. These are characters with backstories, some of which we won’t see fully realized for a few years (or, in the case of the Master, never realized. Period).

So it goes: Angel gets his whole back-story described in great detail, minus the flashbacks that the show will employ with great success as soon as the next season (and sponsor/investor money can roll in). In this, we learn that – yes of course – Angel is actually a vampire, but one with a soul! This notion will be played with for years to come, resulting in both great drama and – sometimes – even greater comedy. He had a past with both The Master and Darla, and he was a nasty son of a bitch. Also? Gypsies. Its this kind of thing that the shows been needing. No more hinting at things, but coming forth with actual answers and plots. The reveal of Angel being a vampire comes right after a kiss between Buffy and himself, a great one-two punch for a viewer, particularly on the first viewing. But, as this is likely near my tenth session with “Angel” in nearly as many years, the moment still holds up, breathing some interest into what was already becoming a dull “will they/won’t they” device the show was employing.

The episode works, for me (and in turn that scene), because of the acting. Watch SMG play Buffy off as both clearly informed but juvenile and innocent in the first bedroom scene with Angel. It’s all in the eyes. Watch Darla taunting Angel in his home near the episodes mid-way point. Julie Benz likely didn’t have a ton of backstory to go on, with this episode, but Darla is menacing, creepy, and – for the first time ever – not goofy as fuck. And check Buffy’s mom in any scene she’s in. While she’s usually used for comic effect, here she gets to be both way smarter than her daughter and hopeful for her future. Also? Look at Willow. At any time during this episode. Did I mention, yet, how she is the cutest in these early seasons?

But that’s the thing that works about this episode and, in turn, this whole show. BtVS is a show primarily about relationships, either in a romantic sense or just on a person-to-person level. The characters that inhabit this world are what make it real, a feat in and of itself, considering how unreal the show and its various elements can be. By the time the final credits roll after the final episode of the seventh season, these characters know each other perfectly and know exactly who they are with each other. This episode really begins to plant the seeds that Whedon and his team will sow for six more years. The way Willow and Giles bounce and play off each other, the way Buffy’s mom reacts to everything her daughter does, the cute shenanigans between Willow and Xander… these are staples for the show, and things that don’t really show up until this episode. Before this, we were simply told Willow had feelings for Xander, but what the way she gets all smiley over Xander’s goofball dancing during the episodes opening moments. This signifies the deeper elements of character development and interaction that the show – and Whedon himself – will eventually become famous for.

Aside from this, the episode employs the same levels of unevenness as the rest of the season thus far, but things are starting to get better. The night scenes are still too dark, but they spend less time in completely dark sets to compensate, allowing for the lame-as-hell battle between Angel/Buffy and “The Three” to be seen, for once. And the battle sequence between Darla (and her +4 Pistols of Unlimited Ammo) and Buffy/Angel in the Bronze is equally well-lit and, really, the first well-choreographed fight in the show (love that part where Buffy pushes the pool table and Darla just keeps shooting). The music, though, is still lame, the effects are crap, and some of the acting (particularly the kid playing the Anointed One) is beyond shit. But this is all forgivable, for once, because the content is worth the lamer portions. I’m willing to watch David Boreanaz’s face transform back and forth between human and vampire, suffering the whole time, as long as the story is tight and the characters are interesting.

And so there you go, the best episode – hands down – of Season 1. Episodes, almost immediately, in the next season beat this one in terms of overall quality, so the ride as “best reviewed” will not be long lived, but at least it can count itself as best of the season. “Angel” introduces many of the best elements BtVS has going for it in years to come, between the character relationships, the complexity of what it means to be a demon/vampire slayer, and the deep histories of all those involved in the weekly goings-ons of the characters. The show had a weak start and, coming up, a week continuation. But for those that stuck with the show up to this point, their patience was rewarded with a well-acted, well-scripted, well-put-together episode. Kudus.

Episode Rating: 92

Death Count: 23
Annoying Scream Count: 9

Additional Notes:
-Buffy still continues to wear the ugliest rings in the history of rings (note the one in the top image of this post for an example)
-The never-ending destruction of the Summers home begins in this episode with a window I’d love to see Buffy explain
-The re-appearance of Xander’s skateboard. Sorry for blasting the first episode for introducing that element and never touching on it again. I admit I was wrong
-Buffy getting all defensive of her diary’s content is cute and funny
-The sparring between Giles and Buffy is timeless and a perfect example of their relationship
-The gang having to continually explain why Giles is around continues to be funny. And leads to the best line of the episode:
Buffy’s Mom: “…this school is amazing!”
-Buffy didn’t know this Angel guy at all, aside from the fact that he shows up at random and is a creeper with cryptic help. She was either confident she could take him in a fight or so trusting that he wouldn’t try anything on her in her room. That level of trust and confidence will show up later, when Spike attempts, well… you’ll see
-This episode marks the first showcasing of the weapons closet in the library. Wonder when Giles moved that in there?
-Cordelia giving that girl shit for the same dress? Even though the dress was ugly as shit? Priceless. “We think
we’ve got problems…”

 

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