Somnambulist
Written by: Tim Minear
Directed by: Winrich Kolbe
Air Date: Jan. 18, 2000

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This is a great episode, and quite possibly the best episode of Season 1 thus far. Its almost perfect. It’s also the first episode to really drive home the point that the first season – and in its own way, the entire series – that the major them of redemption circles around the idea of Angel vs himself, or, more accurately, Angel vs Angelus. He clearly has issues with his past, obviously, which have been touched on many times, but never firsthand. Here, with the introduction of another of his progeny, Penn (played by Hawkeye… er, Bourne 2.0… er, Jeremy Renner), we get to see him come face to face with his past in a more conflicted fashion than we did back in, say, “Ange” with Darla. While that episode presented us with some internal battles, it was subtle and prior to the major foundations of the show’s mythology. Here, the writers get to play with said mythology and the results are awesome.

The Penn vs Angel story, here, also leads way to the start of the Angel vs Kate narrative and, as I’ve said before, its the saddest part of the first portion of “Angel” as a series, because the Kate story gets to its best point, here, after Angel reveals to her his secret in order to protect her. But because she’s not stupid, she figures out who Angel used to be and she doesn’t really like that information, primarily because she believes Angel when he opens up her eyes to the supernatural side of L.A. and she can’t deal. Well, she deals the way she does with everything: anger and violence. Look at the way she solves the final issue, driving a giant wooden plank through Angel’s gut to get to Penn’s heart. She doesn’t care that she hurts Angel, even though she cares enough to not kill him. Its how she solves all of her problems and we continue to get the best development and, so, it sucks that her story ends up going nowhere by the end of her time on the show. Alas.

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“Angel” continues the Buffyverse’s great use of flashbacks and costumes, however, during Angel’s dream sequences. Showing Penn turning into a killer and Angel grooming him to kill his family and and friends, promising that family blood is “sweeter” and that killing his father, a man that Penn hates with a passion, is the way to go. So, the parallel, then, when Angel stops him from killing Kate is cool because – as he puts it himself – Angel is his new father. He turned him, so he made him. Penn has a serious problem with his father figures so he goes all out to not only hurt Angel, but to try to kill him. The confrontation at the end, though – while epic, brutal, and well staged, is not even close to as good as the tense showdown in the Angel Investigations office when Penn tries to get information on Kate. The other great moment is when he storms the police station and comments on Angel’s drawing of him. Its also tense and scary. I like it when these shows actually pull off “scary”.

The Kate relationship falls apart here and that’s tough for Angel. As much as he appreciates Cordelia (as per the conversation at the end of the episode) and as much as his relationship with Wesley will eventually start to grown, his connection to Kate has thus far been all about his connection to the human world on a consistent basis. Yes, he’s saved normal people a bunch, but they are day-by-day. Kate is there for his soul everyday. I do like to think that, in the time between episodes, they talk, they fight crime. You can tell they are friends because Kate “trusts” him, per his asking. So its tough for Angel to lose this friendship, especially now that, since Kate knows the world Angel is from, she is now prone to get herself into more danger.

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Renner plays the role perfectly and, you know, he’s not a bad actor. He comes across as sick and twisted but valid in his beliefs and his actions. He really hams it up from time to time, but its all within the realm of believability for a vampire character that has been around for years and years. I don’t talk about a ton of the acting unless its a guest actor that does a bang-up job. And he gets to play another of Angel’s blasts from the past, a kind of tradition for the character. Angel fights day and night to make peace in a world he himself has set to ruin time and again, but it continuously forces him to trade blows with his personal demons, whether they be Darla, Spike, or, here Penn. And it won’t be the last time, either, as in S5 we’ll see another of his “kids” come back to visit “dad”.

The first half of the season comes to a close in a bang-up fashion and I really appreciate the level of care the writers are taking to develop characters, themes, and plots here. I like “BtVS” — LOVE it, even — but I must admit, time and again, that “Angel” has a better sense of thematic truths than its parent series. The darkness, the yearning for redemption, and the depth of the characters themselves are all starting to show their strengths. While Buffy is busy making out and attending college, Angel is out there stopping demons from destroying a city and getting nothing for it. He loses his friends, he loses trust, and he has to deal with his past on a daily basis. His tragic stature drives the show. And its a drive I’m willing to join in.

Episode Rating: 98

Additional Notes:
-Angel suspect he is the murderer and so does Wesley. Cordelia is all pissed at Wes until Angel backs him and then she jumps ship immediately
-Angel takes Wes down in two seconds, however
-When Angel tells Kate how she doesn’t understand anything he grips her cross so hard it burns and burns. You know it hurts and that drives his point home
-Penn never knows about Angel’s soul; Angel never tells him directly and it doesn’t even matter. Makes the relationship better, anyhow
-The switch between Cordelia talking to an empty chair to talking to a chair with Penn in it
-Wes getting the wrong mail is hilarious
-I hated that stupid montage, though. REAL dumb

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