The Ring
Written by: Howard Gordon
Directed by: Nick Marck
Air Date: Feb. 29, 2000

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“The Ring” is an… interesting episode. It does almost everything it sets out to do within its 45-minute run-time, but never reaches any great heights. It comes close many times, though. Chief among those close calls is the setup for this episode: a man, looking awful and fresh from a beating, comes pleading for Angel’s help, only to meet a team ready and willing to provide everything they can to see the job through. This leads to an investigation that ends with Angel set up and trapped after confronting and threatening a bookie, menacing some albino monsters, discovering a nightly underground demon fighting competition, and eventually shocked and shackled and forced to fight, himself. This is all within the first ten minutes. Its a nice, brisk pace to get the usual set up (person needs help, Angel and co. investigate and solve the problem) which normally takes half the episode out of the way to dig into the “meatier” stuff.

I use quote marks because, well, this episode does a lot of surface skimming. Stay with me for a second. The overall theme of the episode seems to be the moral boundaries between “Good” and “Evil” and the perception of both as far as immediate, outward appearances. The client who hires Angel is the perfect example of this, because he appears as a man in need, a good soul trying to save his brother’s life, only to not only be the mastermind of the whole thing, but a regular sack-o-dicks who shoots his own brother to death just to prove how cool he is. The “don’t judge a book by its cover” line of thinking extends to almost every aspect of the episode, whether it be Wesley’s turn as a badass when he single-handedly takes on four men armed with only a crossbow or the introduction of a new player with Wolfram & Hart.

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Back in “Sense and Sensibility” was the last time the evil law firm had come up, and now we meet the first female bad-“guy” of the series: Lilah Morgan. She plays it cool in their first meeting, but soon she and Angel are tucked away from the brutal bloodshed and in her office, where she suggests cutting a deal: keep fighting the good fight, but ignore any thing that has Wolfram & Hart’s scent. She makes an utterance of “picking fights you can win”, suggesting that there is no beating her and the rest of the firm, something which we’ll get to see Angel disagree with for the rest of the series. But she hints, here, for the first time, at one of the show’s greater strengths, and one of the things that keeps “Angel” from feeling like a spin off and more like its own show: Buffy has to deal with season-long threats to the earth or universe, Angel has to deal with the oh-so-“simple” task of saving souls. Even demon souls. He turns down Lilah’s offer because he can’t sell his if it means selling others’ at the same time.

These realizations, that those that seem just can be evil and those that appear evil can be just is a great idea for an episode, or set of characters, or even a full series. But “The Ring” dances around it too much to make it stick. It is too sublte much of the time and played too straight the rest. A prime example is Angel’s drive to help free the demons he is stuck in mortal combat with: he doesn’t even stop for a second to think about the consequences of letting these demons go free (something that is admittedly played for comedic effect at the episodes closing moments). Some weighing out the pros and cons over his choices would have been nice. I get that he’s “fighting the good fight” but it just seems odd for a character as forward-thinking as Angel to completely ignore the possible negative side-effects of letting some pissed off demons go free, especially when he just turned down working with Wolfram & Hart due to his ability to sense such stuff.

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On the technical side, the episode also had a few faults, namely the fights. In an episode dedicated to an illegal fighting league, you’d hope for some solid battles. Not only are some of them off-screen, others are too short or, as is the case with the final battle, rely far too heavily on slow-motion tricks and the like. I get that they were going for an easy way to show how disoriented Angel was becoming from being tossed around like a rag doll, but come on. And then there’s the mixed bag of demon make-up – some of them looked really good, but others looked goofy and not interesting in the least. Some of the other effects work was OK, though – the shots of people going “over the red line” and turning to dust were pretty solid, as was this effects use of brutal murders.

When all is said and done, though, the thing about this episode that does work, 100%, is the new reliance on Wesley as a character. He and Cordelia haven’t had a ton of time together as of yet and this episode starts to bring the whole team together. They have to pair up to figure out what happened to Angel, how to free him, and how to make an effective escape. Despite some initial bumbling, the pair not only save the day, but they develop more respect for each other, and Angel does, too. Its a nice, touching moment as they limp away from a battle barely won and it shows how complex and nuanced this group is and can be.

Episode Rating: 81

Additional Notes:
Wesley only needs one weapon… but it is unfortunately barrel-of-monkeyed together with every other weapon in the drawer
-The database website, “Demons, Demons, Demons” shows up for the first time!
-The stupid move when Angel is going to light that guy’s smoke but it turns out to be money is so awful
-Kate referenced as “cop lady” and seems none too friendly
-Some demon’s name is Kafka!
-Why doesn’t Angel disintegrate when he reaches over the line? Just electrocuted?
-Great Lilah scene. Can’t wait for more!
-Best Line? Tom the demon: “Who da hell are you?”
-That pit of melted bodies in the albino lair was gross and a good quick-cut view of something awful and nasty without dwelling too long

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