The Prodigal
Written by: Tim Minear
Directed by:  Bruce Seth Green
Air Date: Feb. 22, 2000

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I love Buffyverse flashbacks. They are some of my favorite flashbacks in television history. They serve two awesome purposes: First, they reveal parts of the greater mythology of the show by showing rather than telling. Second, they usually allow characters to come back from the dead, so to speak, and show up on screen once more, like Darla in this episode. This episode also further fills in some gaps by tying into the events shown in flashbacks way back in “Angel” (the Season 1 “BtVS” episode). If I had to say there was a third awesome purpose, it would be seeing David Boreanaz slog through his lines with his over-the-top accent and his stupid wigs. Mind you, I don’t hate either of these things. I love them. Dearly.

This is an episode about fathers and their offspring: Angel – or Liam, in the flashbacks – and Kate and her father, the retired cop. It is about how stilted relationships can become by one or both parties simply not trying hard enough, or in some cases, at all. The parallels between the two lead characters in this episode are a bitch much, sometimes, but the device of having a word or phrase trigger a flashback works pretty well. Kate says she isn’t Angel’s girlfriend after they work together on a case in the subway station and WHAM! flashback to old-timey Liam meeting a busty-as-fuck Julie Benz in an ally way. I like that this show, too, uses an episode about father/child relationships to further investigate the relationship Angel has with two important – at this time – women in his life. Darla is both a lover and a mother to Angel in these flashbacks, and it is interesting to see this played out a bit more (though more is coming, fast), and Kate still hasn’t gotten over the events of “Somnambulist”.

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Trying to help Kate uncover the mystery of the drugs and demons is a noble goal and until it leads to her father, Angel is very much all about trying to recover their relationship in any way he can. She isn’t having any of it, until her father comes to speak to her about Angel. See, he’d visited him the night before and pressed him for answers he had no way of knowing, really. Now he’s scared and looking for a way out without hurting his daughter, someone he does in fact love very much, though he obviously is a damned fool about finding legal ways to show it. Kate realizes that Angel might not be a bad guy, after all, seeing as how she had to defend him to her father. And just as things start to go well? Well, the bad guys that Kate’s dad were working with have him killed for asking too many questions. This leads to one of my favorite sequences in the entire series – and possibly the entire Buffyverse: Angel gets there before he dies, or is even attacked, but Kate’s dad doesn’t invite him in. So he has to watch from outside the doorway while they murder him and the second he dies, Angel bursts in and absolutely massacres one of them, letting the other one escape. Its a tense scene because you know there is nothing to be done but wait it out. And it is a merciless minute or two of waiting.

Kate finds her dad dead by vampire bite and immediately all the re-established goodwill is out the door. Angel is now doing things on his own again, as is Kate, who wastes no time putting her inherited detective skills to use and goes to an exotic car chop shop(?) where demon drugs are being produced. Angel gets there at about the same time, but not before Kate gets to go all “Kate the Vampire Slayer” on a dude, and is immediately surrounded by more vamps and a really tall demon who… doesn’t do anything but stand and watch the fight and then get his head lopped off. His plan was stupid and his death was fitting as a result. To say the “bad guy” of the episode was a huge waste would be both accurate and – thankfully – not the point of the episode, anyhow.

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Back in flashback land, though, things get even more dark. Liam and his dad fucking hate each other. Like, hate each other. His dad doesn’t respect him or show any love, and as a result, Liam resents him, to the point of walking out of their life forever (which does come to pass in a manner of speaking). It is in the final moment of this scene that the dad almost cracks, almost shows some love, but he can’t. Too much time and too much pain have come to pass and its all for naught. Liam exits the house, his family, and – by the end of the night – the realm of the living. Its fun to see who Angel really was before, and nice to see that his father was a prick who said he’d amount to nothing. Even after he’s killed his whole family and gotten his revenge as a vampire, Darla – the queen bitch if ever there was one – reminds him that he will never have won because his father will never have accepted him, now. But he has a new parent in her, so why should he care? Clearly hundreds of years of regret crashing in on him after getting his soul back has made him care.

Overall, this episode does so many things right, that even the goofiest of stupid things can’t really bring it down (like Wesley’s lab coat. Why does he have a lab coat? Did he get it at the same store Buffy got her’s Buffy got her’s? Or how about the fact that Kate gets there just in time to see a lackey run off and walk in on her dead dad? The list goes on). The added developments to characters, mythology, and the world of “Angel” is welcome and this is one of the best episodes the first season had going for it. It complicates the relationships and furthers the themes. Nothing wrong with that. But, get this. I have to review a goddamned Angel comic, next. Have to, you ask? Yes. I have to. Get ready, too, because I’m sure it will be as great as this episode. Count on it.

Episode Rating: 97

Additional Notes:
Always a treat to see Julie Benz. And we’ll be seeing more of her very soon, as I’d said
-Mr. Lockley exposits like a mofo to those shady vampire dudes, though. Poor writing
-Cheesy but acceptable: Angel’s “Beloved Son” tombstone and Kate’s dad’s “Beloved Father” stone
-The dumbest thing in this episode, over Wesley’s lab coat? That the demon they are researching is wearing a trenchcoat just like the one they’d killed earlier, only shown to have this coat in an ancient, dusty tome. Really, guys?
-Best line? Wesley stating that the demon wanted the drugs because he was “Jonesing to get well.”
-The vocal music during the rebirth scene in the graveyard was awesome. Well done.
-I love the old ass cell phones. Man, technology really evolved at quite a fast rate, huh?

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