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Although I am not fond of the character Angel, I rather liked the first episode to really flesh out his character. According to the A.V. Club review:
In my first Buffy blog, I mistakenly referred to Angel’s past (as an ancient bad-to-the-bone vampire who cleaned up his act after some gypsies cursed him with a conscience) as having been revealed in the series’ second episode. I made that goof because I mixed up information I’d gleaned from one of the DVD featurettes with information I’d obtained from actually watching the show. And now I’m really regretting having watched that featurette, because it would’ve been so much sweeter to learn about Angel for the first time from this episode–and would’ve been more genuinely startling if I hadn’t already seen the moment where he transforms from hunk to monster after a kiss from Buffy.
Despite the spoilers, “Angel” was still the best Season One episode I’ve yet seen. I’ve enjoyed every Buffy I’ve watched for this blog–with the exception of one I’ll be getting to in a minute–but “Angel” is the first installment since the two-part pilot that really lives up to the series’ premise. It has twists, drama, dark humor, deep sorrow, sexual tension and a subtle exploration of a significant theme. It’s also well-directed by the great Scott Brazil, a former Hill Street Blues helmer who’d later help shepherd The Shield to glory (before being felled at age 50 by ALS).
We begin by meeting The Three, a trio of super-vampires tasked by The Master to take out Buffy–a job they’re well on their way to completing, before Angel intervenes. The unhappy couple flees The Three and takes refuge at Buffy’s house, where they share a little sexual tension, then–a day later–the kiss that stirs up Angel’s evil side and terrifies our heroine. Meanwhile, determined to curry favor with The Master (who’s preoccupied with prepubescent Collin, his Anointed One), hot schoolgirl Darla decides to persuade Angel to re-join her on the dark side of vampirism. Her plan? To get Buffy to turn on Angel, and then for Angel to kill Buffy. Her method? She weasels her way into Buffy’s house by pretending to be a classmate, takes a bite out of Buffy’s mother Joyce, then shoves Joyce into Angel’s arms just before Buffy comes home.
Part of the beauty of “Angel” is the way it slyly converts a standard piece of vampire lore–the idea that vampires can only come into your home if you invite them–and uses it to illuminate some ideas about “family” in the Buffyverse. Typically, writers use the “vampires have to be invited in” idea to imply that everyone has a little wickedness in them, and that succumbing to vampires (whether they’re being used as a metaphor for sex, drugs, mediocrity, or straight-up evil) is really a matter of a giving in to an impulse that’s already there. In the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes I’ve seen, the good guys are outcasts who cling to a private hope that they can be normal, and maybe someday “belong.” Thus Buffy invites in a vampire who’s a prospective boyfriend, and Joyce invites in a vampire who looks like an ordinary schoolfriend for her daughter (for a change), and Angel is tempted to leave behind his refrigerator full of stolen blood bags to join Darla and The Master and what they both describe warmly as, yes, “family.”
The rest of the beauty of “Angel” is the way it exploits the ambiguity raised by this theme to tease and bait the audience. (Kudos are due to the episode’s writer, David Greenwalt, who was also responsible for last week’s thematically rich “Teacher’s Pet.”) Having seen Sunnydale High’s principal get devoured just one episode ago, we can’t assume that Darla–or Angel!–won’t kill Joyce, nor do we know whether Buffy will realize that the whole Angel-about-to-chow-down-on-her-mom thing is a big misunderstanding. For all we know, Buffy might just kill Angel. (That is, if we didn’t already know that David Boreanz had a couple more seasons of playing Angel on Buffy ahead of him before spinning off into his own series.) Xander certainly wants Buffy to do her sworn duty as The Chosen One, because it’ll eliminate a key rival for her affections, and edge him that much closer to living out his dream of “belonging.”
And there are also a multitude of character touches, funny bits of dialogue, and milieu-enriching moments that make “Angel” a significant episode. I like how The Master comes off as half Proud Papa with Collin, and half sarcastic smartass. I like how Buffy’s first encounter with The Three reveals her as vulnerable, really for the first time on the show. I like how Buffy’s chaste (but sexually charged) sleepover with Angel involves her lying to her mom, just like any other horny teenager. I like how when Buffy asks Angel if he snores, he forlornly says, “I don’t know.” I like how Giles’ request that Buffy learn to master the quarterstaff prompts her to complain, “I’m not going to be fighting Friar Tuck.” I like how when Buffy thinks Angel has been reading her diary, she snappishly points out that when she refers to “A” she means “Ahmed, a charming foreign exchange student,” and that contrary to what she may have written, Angel’s eyes are “bulging, not penetrating.” I even like that a good chunk of the episode takes place before, during and after The Bronze undergoes “a fumigation”–a neat nod to the business of this episode and this series.
I, Robot… You, Jane
I found I Robot,…You, Jane to be way too After School Special-y to have much liking for it. According to the A.V. Club review:
But first, “I Robot, You Jane,” in which we learn that the world of 1997 is a whole new era where people get “jacked in” and “go on line,” while old fuddy-duddies like Giles with their ancient texts and disdain for the modern are in danger of becoming obsolete. And yet, consider this cautionary tale: What if Willow were to inadvertently scan a spell from one of those ancient texts into a networked computer, thereby releasing the demon Moloch into the web, where he would proceed to enslave a couple of vengeful nerds and to flirt with Willow? Well, much silliness would ensue, obviously…even before Moloch inevitably downloads himself into a robot body and gets electrocuted.
As I said, I’ll get into the fundamental problem with “I Robot, You Jane” in a moment, but for now, let me point out a few things I found odd about the episode: like the sudden appearance of other students and an additional teacher in Sunnydale’s library (a reasonably welcome development, given my complaints last week about the sketchiness of Sunnydale High to this point, though one that could’ve been handled more deftly), and the presence of stereotypical computer geeks to further confuse the issue of where Buffy, Xander and Willow rank in the high school pecking order.
What did I like? I enjoyed the brief glimpse of Buffy’s transcript (“GPA: 2.8; Absences: 1”), and I loved the episode’s capper scene, in which Buffy, Xander and Willow laugh mirthlessly over the shit luck all three of them have had at romance. (Praying mantis women? Hunky vampires? Tech-savvy demons? Ha ha!) Also, I suppose I liked the character of Ms. Calendar the computer science teacher as a potential romantic foil for Giles, though I don’t know if I’m basing that on her appearance in this episode, or on my general awareness that she’s going to reappear later in the series. (Though I don’t yet know in what capacity.)
Other than that, “I Robot, You Jane” was a misfire: corny, tonally off and lacking even the illusion of depth that other slack episodes have provided in Season One.