Angel 1×03: In the Dark

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Doug Petrie | Director: Bruce Seth Green | Aired: 10/19/1999]

“In the Dark,” one of several cross-over episodes with parent show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (where characters and plot threads cross over) is the first in a series of episodes that carry significant elements and characters from one show to another with the central purpose of helping the new and emerging spin-off show get on its feet. I guess we know we’re in Whedonland when it’s just this good.

Picking up where BtVS, “The Harsh Light of Day” left off, this episode of AtS follows Spike and Oz as they depart Sunnydale for L.A. Oz has come to the city for a gig with his band, but stops by the offices of Angel Investigations with a special package from Buffy: the Ring of Amarra. A ring that constitutes the Holy Grail for vampires which, when worn by one, renders them invincible against stakes, crosses, holy water and even sunlight. Spike, the greedy and mindless entropy fan he is, has followed Oz, having unearthed the ring in a plot to kill Buffy not days earlier in the fictional universe’s time line. This is the set-up.

It’s just a testament to the show’s writers that these two worlds mesh so well; only two episodes in up to this point, and AtS already has a distinctly different tone, yet nothing feels out of place. Maybe it’s just that writer Douglas Petrie really does write Spike better than the rest (he would later go on to write BtVS “Fool for Love” ). Some rock solid proof appears right away in the teaser scene before the credits, where Spike gut-bustingly mocks Angel as he watches his former ally save a young girl in an alley (see quotes below).

There’s a subtle layer beneath Spike’s self-appreciated jibes too, as he is ever more intuitive than anyone around him guesses throughout his entire time in the Whedonverse. Even back in S2 of Buffy, his practicality and common sense stuck out and made him more than just the blind-fighting killer he appeared to be, and during his time with the Scoobies (which, now, hasn’t even chronologically happened) he could see their tight bonds falling apart while no one else could. In S5 of Angel, he’s the only one, and right from the start, who doesn’t delude himself with the company line about how Wolfram and Hart was changing because of Angel’s new regime. He truthfully observed: “a place like this doesn’t change, it changes you.”

Here, his snarky comments about Angel scratch a delicate surface, and the sarcasm of the “fluffy puppy” line nails it: Angel is who he is, soul or not (Angel himself says that vampires share personality traits of their former human selves in BtVS “Doppelgangland” ), and a large part of this season has him dealing with that and how it ties in to his history with Buffy. In fact, how he deals is a big part of this episode, along with the main theme of the entire series: Redemption. More specifically here: earning it.

The B plot involving the aforementioned girl named Rachel whom Angel saved in the alley doesn’t do a whole lot, but serves as a fair parallel for the A plot. It also continues to lay a solid foundation for Angel’s true mission of saving souls. When her abusive boyfriend has been released from jail, Rachel calls Angel in desperation, pleading to him to save her from herself; she always goes back to this man like an addict. Angel gives her his console, and tells her she can choose to go with another quick fix and wait and bleed through the consequences again, or take the longer, more painful road that ultimately has a better place for her at the end. This is just a shadow of what’s to come as Angel is soon to face the same choice.

Oz shows up in L.A. with the ring (hands it to Angel, who hides it), and I’d like to point out how much I love this little guy and how wonderful he is no matter how little he talks; we always get what he’s about and his brief exchanges with the team are enjoyable. Shame there isn’t more of him. After a brief confrontation, Angel tracks down Spike and is subsequently captured, and it is here that the real meat of the episode kicks in.

Spike has hired a vampire who specializes in torture to get the location of the ring out of Angel, smugly explaining that this man, Marcus, invented some of the torture ‘classics.’ Despite the painful nature of it, the torture isn’t all that gruesome, but pain seems to get the job done. Angel resists as boldly as he can all the while Marcus repeatedly asks him, ‘what do you want, Angel?’ trying to crack him by exposing deepest desires. The self-important, philosophical psychotic has been done to death so I was put off by this concept at first, but some good acting from all three ‘vampires’ and the strength of the writing made me enjoy the sequence as a whole.

In stark contrast to later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike really does feel threatening throughout this episode too. I felt genuine concern for Doyle and Cordelia’s safety when he confronted them in the office. And, as is his style, his determination for a goal is tough to break; we watch him egg Marcus on, periodically becoming delighted, bored and angry by the length and method of the torture and Angel’s lack of response. But, is it really lacking? Even a vampire can only take so much and when Angel gives in to Marcus it’s like a beautiful release; both chilling and pure. He tells his captor that he wants forgiveness, and Marcus is pleased with this truth. He knows that Angel often takes the high road too, and that he wishes to earn his redemption. This is where the Ring of Amarra ties in.

For Angel, it represents the same choice Rachel had to make: The quick fix versus the righteous path. Invulnerability and an enhanced bonus on top of his immortality would make Angel feel akin to a God, and this type of power easily corrupts. More importantly, as Marcus said, Angel feels he has to earn his ‘freedom’ from his past and it’s through the pain he suffers that he realizes the cost of this, and learns to face it. And when Angel faces Marcus, then stepping into the sunlight with the ring on his hand, he takes a long look and truly sees what he’s giving up, and still does it.

I really liked seeing him watch one last sunset before destroying the ring and thematically, it was moving. But, it does bother me a little. Now, from a storytelling standpoint it makes sense; you can’t have an invincible hero because it would become impossibly boring, but much the same way Buffy stored the Troll God’s hammer from an earlier episode for use against Glory in BtVS “The Gift” Angel could’ve stored this very powerful weapon away for the one most crucial moment. Just a necessity of the writing, I guess, however disappointing. Although, I have seen it pointed out that having such an item could bring Angel too close to true happiness, and the thought of Angelus with the Ring of Amarra is downright terrifying.

One last item of note is that Doyle and Cordelia get something important to do at last. They start to bond while hiding out at Doyle’s place (this will be important in “The Bachelor Party” [1×07] , and “Hero” [1×09] ), and show their true colours in a crisis. Spike uses Angel’s life as a bartering chip to scare them in to handing over the ring, but right away they know it’s not an option. This seems a small thing, but it’s important, as it starts to define the difference between Angel Investigations and the Scooby Gang (of Buffy).

From a metaphorical standpoint, they’re more grown up; S1 of Angel focuses on the metaphor of life in one’s early twenties, while Buffy S4 (the chronological companion to Angel S1) is about the college life. The only winning option for them is to cheat Spike out of the ring while rescuing Angel, as opposed to say, what Buffy and Co. did for Willow in BtVS “Choices” handing over the Box of Gavrock to the Mayor without a second thought when Willow’s life was at stake (despite the Box being essential to the Mayor’s demonic ascension). They’re willing to give up even Angel to do what’s right; another high road.

In the end, this is a really good episode that suffers from only a few minor nitpick items. Marcus himself was a good treat, making for an interesting play on the ‘quiet psycho’ archetype. And the exceptional blend of action, character development and thematic relevance, as well as the very entertaining presence of Spike make it memorable and fun; his mockery of Angel is one of the funniest moments in the Whedonverse.

 


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Angel still does Tai Chi. This is a neat piece of continuity carried from S3 of Buffy.
+ Spike abandoning his “carefully laid out plan” because he got bored. This is perfectly his style.
+ Wrist mounted stakes.
+ Doyle’s phone calls; Frankie the Tripod, and the “House of Pies” line.
+ Marcus’ repeated playing of Mozart’s symphony.
+ Spike’s comment about Buffy; “Slutty the Vampire Slayer.”
+ Angel’s takedown of Marcus, especially the burning dock-jump, is really cool.

– The sewer system. No sewer is ever that spotless.
– Lack of Oz. They should’ve given him more to do.


Foreshadowing

* Spike refers to Angel as his sire, despite the fact that Drusilla sired Spike (BtVS : “Fool for Love”). This shows that through all this time he’s still considered Angelus the creator of his vampire persona, Angelus having instructed Spike in evil. In retrospect, this is our first hint that an ensouled Angel’s hatred of Spike is more personal than it appears.
* Doyle telling Spike he’s ‘more than meets the eye’ is true, since he has his demonic strength to fall back on. But he stops short of saying it, still hiding the fact from Cordelia. This plays an important part in their relationship all the way up to “Hero” [1×09].


[Score]

95/100

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20 thoughts on “Angel 1×03: In the Dark”

  1. [Note: bookworm posted this comment on April 11, 2006.]

    first: i never thought of soulless Angel with the gem before; now I fear it.

    second: I wanted the gem destroyed because of another thing: Angel already has to fight quite a lot, and with the gem he’s a special target to every vampire in the world, and okay, with the ring he’s invinceable, but we got to see how easy it was for Spike, Angel and Marcus to lose the ring. He just would be haunted, tortured and fighting for the ring again and again without ever having time and strength for helping the hope- and helpless. He would just be the guardian of the gem. And that’s clearly not his destiny, because the gem would only be a weapon for good in his hands but he wouldn’t be able to use it, because of being busy with fighting off other vamps.

    Maybe the best thing would have been to send the gem to Drogyn into the Deeper Well or to the Oracles (if he would have known about them…) and getting it in time of a big big crisis.

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  2. [Note: Tranquillity posted this comment on March 5, 2007.]

    This was probably the episode that hooked me on Angel. I still think the Spike rooftop speech is a classic piece of television. One of my favourite Buffyverse moments. I agree that it would have been nice to see more of Oz in this ep, he seemed to fit nicely into the world of Angel.

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  3. [Note: Joan posted this comment on October 21, 2007.]

    First off, thanks for taking the time to do all these reviews. They are insightful, and I’m enjoying going through them as I re-watch the series. I expect it will take a while for you to get there, but I’m especially looking forward to your take on season 5.

    Angel does have good reasons for refusing the gem. As we will see as the series unfolds, he has quite a bit of unfinished business with the demon part of his nature, a journey hindered by his self-image as champion. Being able to walk in the light at this juncture would be a further handicap. Nonetheless, Angel’s refusal of the light takes on a different cast when we consider his arc in comparison with that of Spike (which the twinning of “Harsh Light of Day” and “In the Dark invites us to do”. I can’t convince myself that the writers intended it at this point — but we have Spike wanting to go into the light here (albeit for all the wrong reasons) and Angel choosing to stay in the dark. But doesn’t that foreshadow how things turn out? Spike, as a demon, seeks a redemption that Angelus will never want any part of. Here Spike gets the gem, Buffy takes it from him and gives it to Angel, who refuses it. In the Chosen, Angel has a different gem, Buffy takes it and gives it to Spike, who accepts it and uses it to save the world. Just an interesting contrast in the journey of two vampires who end up seeking redemption.

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  4. [Note: Joan posted this comment on October 21, 2007.]

    Sorry about the triple post — I got error messages and didn’t realize that the post was going through. I’m hoping you can delete the duplicates!

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  5. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on January 28, 2008.]

    This is another great episode in a great season. Spike here is just wonderful and Oz is, well, the Oz we´ve come to know and love.

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  6. [Note: Emily posted this comment on April 21, 2009.]

    I just wanted to point out another foreshadowing: On the roof, when Angel is talking to Doyle, he says- “They [people in daytime] have help. The whole world is designed for them. So much that they have no idea what goes on around them after dark. They don’t see the weak ones lost in the night, or the things that prey on them. And if I join them, maybe I’d stop seeing too.”
    This is the second time around I’m watching Angel, and my memory is a bit fuzzy, but doesn’t this happen in Season 5? He joins the daytime world at Wolfram and Hart and starts to forget about his mission, his redemption, and the people who need him because they have no one else.

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  7. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on June 14, 2009.]

    Great review again!
    And I Agree: more Oz! Please! It’s really a shame that’s he’s just “here”. Even if every second of him worth it!

    Oh, and cool point Emily, I was just thinking that to about season 5!
    That’s why it was so cool in season 6 comics (however I don’t like the fact it exists), in issue 17 maybe, in the end of the After the fall arc, to see the story striking again the “I help the helpless” chord.

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  8. [Note: zdravko posted this comment on January 17, 2010.]

    Love this part. The irony of it is hilarious:

    MARCUS: He’s in love.

    SPIKE: Yeah, with a Slayer no less. How’s that for a perversion?

    Like

  9. [Note: Niko posted this comment on August 21, 2010.]

    BTW, Angel isn’t really pouring his soul to Marcus….he just wants him to get closer so he can stake him….how on Earth did you miss that lol =)

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  10. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on January 1, 2011.]

    Good:

    -Oz. It’s Oz. Oz. Cordelia being so excited to see him.

    -Angel v. Spike. Spike had a carefully thought out plan, but got bored.

    -Cordelia: “It smells like bong water in here.”

    -Angel v. Spike.

    -The torture scenes.

    -The sunset ending.

    Bad:

    -Angel would hear Spike mocking him with his vamp hearing.

    -Angel never has scars from this or any other attack.

    Trivia: This parallels Spikes first appearance on ‘BtVS’. He fights with a block of wood, he is mentioned with the word ‘railroad’, he talks about having a plan but getting bored and he calls Angel his “sire”.

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  11. [Note: Arachnea posted this comment on March 28, 2013.]

    I like to make a parallel with Babylon 5 when the torturer asks relentlessly: What do you want ?

    In B5, the side of chaos asks “what do you want”, the side of order asks “who are you”. Later on, we discover with the First One that these two fundamental questions should not live separately. You can be whole only if you know who you are and what you want.

    Angel clearly knows what he wants – or wishes – but he doesn’t know who he is yet. His journey is just beginning :).

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  12. [Note: meh posted this comment on August 8, 2013.]

    The ring was a bad idea mainly because it was so underused. In BtVS it was merely a plot point, and a fairly uninteresting one at that. In AtS it could have been much more interesting, and an entire episode could have been devoted to the allure and temptation of keeping it. It could have been shown to be dangerous because all the vampires in the world would be after it (more than just how it was dealt with with Spike). However, it was just swept under the carpet with a small, albeit fairly good, speech by Angel, and that was that.

    How about making him keep the ring, try to be part of “daytime” life, and showing how that was a mistake?

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  13. [Note: Random posted this comment on April 20, 2015.]

    Spike uses Angel’s life as a bartering chip to scare them in to handing over the ring, but right away they know it’s not an option. This seems a small thing, but it’s important, as it starts to define the difference between Angel Investigations and the Scooby Gang (of Buffy).

    From a metaphorical standpoint, they’re more grown up; S1 of Angel focuses on the metaphor of life in one’s early twenties, while Buffy S4 (the chronological companion to Angel S1) is about the college life. The only winning option for them is to cheat Spike out of the ring while rescuing Angel, as opposed to say, what Buffy and Co. did for Willow in BtVS “Choices” (3×19) handing over the Box of Gavrock to the Mayor without a second thought when Willow’s life was at stake (despite the Box being essential to the Mayor’s demonic ascension). They’re willing to give up even Angel to do what’s right; another high road.

    That was actually the part that bothered me the most about this episode. They didn’t seem to know handing it over wasn’t an option. It essentially played out like a more chaotic version the exchange with the Mayor. Their brilliant plan was “toss the ring and make Spike dive for it while waiting for Oz to burst through the wall and rescue them, taking absolutely no steps to recover it or even look longingly back at where it was as they drove off.” It was sheerest luck that Spike wasn’t the one who recovered it. The pair inside had no way of knowing, and Oz certainly had no way of knowing, that the van’s entrance would interfere materially. In fact, the show kinda fudged a bit there. Spike was inches from grabbing the ring…I don’t buy that he was so thrown by Oz’s entrance that he wouldn’t have fallen onto the ring at the first sign of trouble. He was utterly obsessed with the ring, after all, and it doesn’t seem likely he would have let himself be distracted so easily. He’s not human, and would fear bodily harm from some flying barrels in those circumstances far less than you or I.

    As it was, the ring was recovered by someone almost as dangerous. Luckily, Marcus had his own obsessions. Had Spike — who hated Angel and probably didn’t have warm yummy feelings about Oz, or even, despite his banter, Cordelia — recovered it, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t immediately have killed them all, starting with a weakened and still-dazed Angel. Oz’s twin crossbows, cool as they were, wouldn’t have proven a deterrent, and Angel was barely coherent. I guess Doyle could have given Spike a fight in demon form, but he’s hardly an experienced fighter and would be unlikely to replicate Buffy’s feat of putting Spike into an arm lock and removing the ring. I would like to have seen at least some acknowledgement that Doyle and Cordelia understood the sheer gravity of their half-assed plan and considered other ways to save Angel without giving up the ring. Hell, I’m sure they could have grabbed a piece of costume jewelry and thrown it across the room. By the time Spike realized it was a fake, they could have gotten away the same way they actually did in the episode.

    As you can guess, this particular flaw has been bugging me for years.

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  14. [Note: Pathbeyondthedark posted this comment on April 21, 2015.]

    The reason the execution of this horrible plan (I agree) was shoddy at best is because Cordelia still isn’t an adult yet. She’s still the Cordelia from season 3 of BtVS, and rightfully so. Had she jarringly “grown up” for the sake of one of Angel’s themes (adulthood) it would have hurt characterization.

    Ultimately, Cordy does grow up much quicker then the Scoobies. By mid-season 2 she’s become a much more responsible, much less shallow character. Some of it is off screen or inbetween seasons, but it’s still believable enough. I think they did a decent job balancing the need for the core cast to represent adulthood without uncharacteristically throwing them into that position. The transition was fast enough to start to separate itself from the parent, yet gradual enough to be believable.

    I know I said comparing it to BtVS shouldn’t be done, but unfortunately for this series, not the character per say, Cordy was in Sunnydale for 3 seasons and for consistency’s sake it’s a minor need for the transition from one series to the next in order to be believable.

    On the same note, Doyle is also in that transition period. He’s still stuck in a place between adolescence and adulthood. Only his ascension to the latter ultimately comes at the price of his own life.

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  15. [Note: Random posted this comment on April 21, 2015.]

    It does make one appreciate Wesley somewhat more. For all that he was still something of a buffoon and a joke at the start of his tenure on “Angel”, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have had the same reaction here as he did in “Choices.” You do make a good point about the relative immaturity of the other two. We — or at least I, in this case — tend to forget that characters can be complex and fallible creatures who are still works in progress, development-wise. Probably because a significant percentage of TV/movie characters aren’t as being particularly complex because too many writers mistake “dark” or “anti-heroic” for “complex.” They can be complex, but it takes effort to actually elevate them to that level. So, yeah, in that light, it’s reasonable to remember that Cordelia is only 3 episodes removed from her time as a shallow, moderately bitchy high-schooler and Doyle is…Doyle.

    I’m kind of disappointed in Oz for not at least making a pithy but pointed statement about how problematic their plan was, though. Oz may be laconic, but he’s not stupid, and it’s his life on the line here too.

    In retrospect, despite Cordelia’s tribulations — sudden poverty, failure to make it in Hollywood, etc — her real growth as a character doesn’t begin in earnest until “Rm w a Vu” (it hurts me physically to type that broken English, heh.) As I write that, I’m actually have a thought about Cordelia in the pilot episode that I will take over to that comment section.

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  16. [Note: Pathbeyondthedark posted this comment on April 21, 2015.]

    The whole Oz thing is just one of the issues with crossovers in general, especially in a universe where characterization is the biggest emphasis. On just about every occasion, it’s used as nothing more then fan service. The characters used are often used sparingly and uncharacteristically and that annoys me tremendously.

    Even the better crossovers like those in “I Will Remember You” and “Sanctuary” still come across lacking and with an air of fan service to them.

    And yet there’s also an issue on the flip side: if any significant characterization occurs with the crossed over character, fans of only the series they stem from are missing something that could be rather important in their development. This is especially true in “Sanctuary,” where Buffy changes her attitude toward Faith slightly (from irredeemable to perhaps there’s a chance). Faith is fine here because she isn’t a core character. In my mind, she’s fair game. But Buffy evolving her state of mind may be lost to fans of BtVS, especially with Faith’s reintroduction in season 7. But even if she were not reintroduced, they’re missing out on a part of Buffy’s development, however minor it may be.

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  17. [Note: Random posted this comment on April 22, 2015.]

    Whenever I see one of these crossovers, especially on a spin-off, I can’t help picturing the Simpsons gag where Homer just pops up and waves, to loud studio audience applause, on one of the episodes that posits an imaginary Simpsons spin-off.

    You touch on the inherent danger of spin-offs. While I can think of loads of examples, mostly comedies, I honestly can’t think of another pair of shows that developed their plotlines in real-time in conjunction with each other. While neither BtVS nor Angel depended on the other, it seems that it was commonly understood (thanks, in no small part, to the cross-overs and how they were handled) that there was a certain expectation by Mutant Enemy that their core audience would be fans and regular viewers of both shows. Prior to the DVD/Blu-ray (and, later, streaming) explosion where buying entire seasons and entire series for leisurely viewing, this wasn’t really possible. AtS came just at the very dawn of this era. Amazon, for instance, was certainly around at the time, but their business model still revolved heavily around books. The contemporary file-sharing sites didn’t have the quality and reliability of current (much more legal) methods of downloading or viewing series. And so forth. So I think ME was taking something of a chance, relying on the cult-hit nature of the two shows plus the extensive on-line fanbase, to keep viewers apprised of the interactions between the two series. Some of the plot developments, like Faith’s various story arcs, required knowledge of the “other” series, while others, like Willow showing up to tell the Angel Investigations characters about Buffy’s death, were completely incidental. Nowadays, it’s a simple matter to keep track of the “other” show. Back then? Not so much. But I suppose, in a weird way, we can call ME’s plan groundbreaking. They weren’t just relying on having a hardcore fanbase to help “Angel” be successful. This wasn’t simply “All in the Family” viewers tuning in to “The Jeffersons”. Rather, they actually expected the hardcore fanbase to essentially create a 2 hour viewing bloc incorporating both shows (even when the two shows stopped existing in a literal 2 hour viewing bloc on the same night.)

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  18. [Note: KingAl86 posted this comment on September 1, 2015.]

    It was rather helpful in the UK that Sky One (the main satellite TV channel) always showed Buffy and Angel in a two hour bloc right until Buffy ended. Though anyone watching Buffy about a year later on the BBC had a problem following both: Channel 5 got the terrestrial rights to Angel and buried it all over the place at crazy times. And many people couldn’t even get Channel 5.

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