Angel 1×04: I Fall to Pieces

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Joss Whedon (Story) and David Greenwalt (Story and Teleplay) | Director: Vern Gillum | Aired: 10/26/1999]

One of the few slight dents in S1’s almost perfect quality consistency is “I Fall to Pieces.” It’s no doubt a solid episode all around and has more entertainment value than an episode like “She” [1×13], but is kind of a sag in the overall scheme when compared to the preceding episodes. In fact, it’s probably the only episode from “City of” [1×01] to “Expecting” [1×12] that doesn’t really enthrall me. But, there is still some fun to be had so let’s look at it.

First and foremost there’s some pretty good dialogue here with Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt behind the writer’s pen (well, word processer), and the actual concept of the Ronald Meltzer character (a surgeon who can supernaturally detach his limbs and move them to his will) shows that a good deal of thought went into this episode. What I liked most about it is how Meltzer’s psyche gets the episode to tap into the bigger theme of the entire series: Redemption. And since redemption deals with consequences and the past (two things which frequently haunt Angel throughout the series) the parallel drawn between the protagonist and the antagonist hits home both for Angel and the viewer.

It hit me biggest and best in how Kate described the psychology of a stalker’s victim to Angel: “Then you better help her get mad, because that is the only way she’ll be able to fight him…this guy could go to jail tomorrow, Angel, and still kill her in her dreams every night. I’ve put a few of these creeps away and the hardest thing is to know that he is still winning. She’s still afraid. He took her power away and no one can get it back for her but her.” My suspicions were confirmed when Angel expertly impersonated a wealthy client at Meltzer’s office, asking him: “Do you know what it’s like to be so much a part of someone that you don’t know where they end and you begin?” And a yes to this can reflect pure, unadulterated love when the sentiment is shared by two people, but when harbored by only one reflects a dangerous obsession. The context in which Angel confronted Meltzer with this statement, and how he (Meltzer) responded about his ‘love’ for Melissa solidified the point of parallel the writers were trying to get across: He is like Angelus.

Granted; it’s no real secret the way it’s presented, though if you’ve never watched BtVS and simply started watching AtS on its own you probably won’t get it. But what we have in the character of the good doctor is a man obsessed, his small pool of affection magnified by time and a self-encouraged fantasy. Now, at this time we don’t have any of Angel’s real back story except for what we’ve seen in BtVS’ : Becoming, Part I and : Becoming, Part II. AtS itself doesn’t really begin to explore the past all that deeply until later this season with “Somnambulist” [1×11] and “The Prodigal” [1×15]. So the parallel here is to the Angelus of Buffy S2, a (more or less) man who was even more obsessed with a girl.

The similarities are there between Melissa and Buffy (the victims) as well. These men changed their lives in a big way; destroying them on the inside, filling them with fear. They fear even doing what they used to love, and their trust in people is shattered. Angelus’ character, like Meltzer’s, was created as a supernatural, metaphorically-based extension of an every day kind of creep, so the existing comparison is fairly easy to see. It’s Angel’s realization of their similarity that brings it some relevance. “I know how this guy thinks; I just don’t know how he’s doing it.”

It’s in this understanding that Angel learns how to fight his enemy; it’s not about powers. He has to take Kate’s advice and teach Melissa to be brave. And much in the same way Buffy could only heal herself by letting go of Angel, removing her fear of destroying Angelus, Melissa too realized that her strength was her stalker’s weakness. Watching her stand up to her stalker, and seeing him literally fall apart as a result was a well earned climax to the story, and gave the metaphor some relevance too (the episode title isn’t exactly cryptic).

But, one of the episode’s better aspects is also a big weak point. The parallel between the two villains doesn’t entirely work. I understand and appreciate the basic concept and the idea of the consequences of Angel’s past visiting him in the present, as it usually leads to something interesting on the show (see the characters of Penn, Darla, and Spike to start). But here, with no personal tie to Angelus, any real impact that could’ve existed never occurred, in fact, and it seemed almost pointless because it didn’t do as much to advance any of the main characters in the way that the previous three episodes did, save for Angel continuing to learn how to save a soul (which, I fanboyishly admit, is still very sweet). Melissa’s ascension from victim to victor was a bright spot in all this.

And just like in “Lonely Hearts” [1×02], we’re confronted with a unique type of villain that could not have existed in Buffy’s simpler world, but only here in Angel’s L.A.: One who is not a mindless killing automaton, but a flawed and self-conscious being that’s capable of feeling its own insufficiency. But, that’s where the comparison itself falls apart, as Angelus was a killing automaton, no matter how ‘artistic’ he was, as he certainly wasn’t mindless; but he existed only for pain and death, rather than giving into it as a result of his ‘relationship’ problems (which is funny when you think it out loud: Angelus’ relationship problems. Ha!). The only line to be drawn between them is that they were both psychotic, supernatural stalkers.

I suppose that here the writers were still getting comfortable in a new kind of skin, and as a throwaway episode this isn’t all that bad. And it’s not as though they didn’t learn to get it right, as some of the best episodes in the series feature a scenario like this; “Somnambulist” [1×11] and “Destiny” [5×08] are both very good episodes wherein the tortured hero’s past and present are explored through his reflection in another. But it just doesn’t work that well here.

However, I did say there were a few positives. The music was pretty good; blended nicely with the epic theme that follows Angel’s character into the night was some appropriately shady detective/investigation type sound that suited the creepy atmosphere well. Much of S1 has this musical tone, but since Angel doesn’t stay a show permanently focused on the ‘detective’ concept, this is the only season you’re going to really hear it. The plot itself was pretty standard, but once again, the dialogue was sharp and relevant. Both the writing and directing give this episode a very eerie atmosphere and the doctor himself, in his stalking and his disgusting molestation of Melissa was skin-crawlingly creepy, and the maximum effect was well reaped.

All in all, this episode was good, even if inconsequential, with the possible exception of the further development of the Fang Gang as a close-knit unit; their interactions here were very enjoyable.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Cordelia confronting Angel about his discomfort in charging clients; “well, get over it!”
+ Angel actually scaring someone by walking out of the shadows with an offer of help. You’d think he’d get that reaction more often.
+ Doyle’s bodyguard work with Melissa.
+ Angel’s quick thinking and pretending to be Jensen.

– The doctor’s mentor. The scene was awkward, and a little hokey.
– The fight scene near the end is rather cheesy.


* Angel, like Buffy, usually avoids killing humans. Here we see the first display of the exceptions he is willing to make to protect the lives of his friends and the innocent, as he “kills” Meltzer by locking his body parts away separately, despite Meltzer’s humanity.
* Meltzer is represented by Wolfram and Hart. This, like “City of” [1×01] , gives us more clues about just what kind of a ‘law firm’ they are.




16 thoughts on “Angel 1×04: I Fall to Pieces”

  1. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on April 10, 2006.]

    I’m not sure I would say the fact that villain doesn’t perfectly parallel Angelus is a negative – although to be fair I’m not entirely sure if you are saying it’s a negative in the review. 🙂

    Some of my favourite Doyle quotes ever are in the ep:

    After the hands-in-the-bed scene:
    Angel: “How’s she doing?”
    Doyle: “Numb. Did they get any prints?”
    Angel: “Yeah.”
    Doyle: “Good. So we can put him behind bars – for about 90 seconds until he skitters through ‘em.”

    Angel: “He’s coming undone.”
    Doyle: “I’ll say.”
    Angel: “No, I mean he’s out of control. He’s killing now.”
    Doyle: “Anyone that comes between him and his obsession. (Looks over at Melissa) Don’t we stand between him and his obsession?”

    There are a couple of pretty nasty plot contrivances in here too that I don’t think you mentioned.

    – Meltzer’s eyes can float around while his hands have to crawl. I guess if he couldn’t make his eyes float he’d have to wash them before he puts them back in their sockets. 😉
    – Having sealed up the basement with tape, Doyle then proceeds to open the sewer grating the moment Meltzer appears. Wha? He then sticks his head down said grating in true horror movie style. Double wha?


  2. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on April 10, 2006.]

    “I’m not sure I would say the fact that villain doesn’t perfectly parallel Angelus is a negative – although to be fair I’m not entirely sure if you are saying it’s a negative in the review ;)”

    Well, it’s a negative because it is what they were aiming for and they kind of frakked it up. Basically it just didn’t pan out and the comparison wasn’t solid enough to work, and i think the whole idea should’ve been changed so it wasn’t establishing that link.

    Good finds on those other two points, by the way.


  3. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on April 10, 2006.]

    I never really saw them aiming for a perfect comparison between the doctor and Angelus. It just didn’t feel like they played that angle up that much – I mean, how many times in the episode is it actually mentioned? I just took him to be a villain that Angel saw to be sick and/or evil, but also understood because of his own background.


  4. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on April 10, 2006.]

    You’re right about how it wasn’t totally put out there or blatant, and if you hadn’t watched Buffy up to that point you’d have no idea. The two main things that led me to this conclusion were:

    – The scene i mentioned in the review, where Kate explains a stalker victim’s psychology.
    – The scene where Angel pretends to be Jensen. You can just tell which girl is on his mind to draw the comparison.

    Angel is also constantly expressing familiarity with the thinking pattern of this particular type of creep, which led me to believe that it’s what they were aiming for. I believe they created it to give it a more personal tie to Angel to make it relevant (but that kind of tanked with the idea). The episode’s score would be even lower if the effort hadn’t been at least put in to try and make that connection.

    I could be wrong but it does seem to be what they’re trying to get you to believe.


  5. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on April 10, 2006.]

    Oh I agree that they’re relating the two, but I don’t agree that to do that the villain must be more similar to Angelus. buffyholic


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

    Another good review, Ryan. This episode is not so bad. The plot is a little shaky but the dialogue and character interaction is worth the watch.


  7. [Note: Cassie posted this comment on July 27, 2008.]

    I think this whole quote from Doyle is hilarious:

    DOYLE: Good. So we can put him behind bars. For about 90 seconds, until he skitters through them. Not a lot of things that make me shudder, but this guy … crawling around under the covers. At least it was just his hands down there. Wish I hadn’t even thought that.

    I wish I hadn’t even thought that too! 😀


  8. [Note: Emily posted this comment on April 26, 2009.]

    I really don’t like it when continuity is off, and I just want to point out that in Season 3 of Buffy, Angel says that he doesn’t drink coffee because it makes him jittery. So why is he drinking it here?


  9. [Note: Emily posted this comment on April 26, 2009.]

    Hey I couldn’t find a way to contact you, Ryan, so I’m just posting it here….I can’t get to the page for the review of Rm w a Vu. Maybe something’s wrong with the url?


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

    Good review, with which I agree.
    The parallel between Meltzer and Angelus is well done for me, it didn’t need to be more obvious because it’s creepy enough.
    And maybe the parallel is even more effective between Meltzer and earlier days Angel. Think of it, Angel really has the behaviour of a stalker, and contrary to Angelus, embraces the roots of his obsession.


  11. [Note: llinnae posted this comment on July 10, 2009.]

    I definitely would have given this episode a higher score. I agree that the comparison between Angelus and Meltzer wasn’t made very clear but I never got the sense that it was meant to be. The scenes you mentioned don’t really make it clear that the comparison was what the writers were going for. Sure, Angel’s reaction to Kate’s take on a stalker’s mentality is telling of Angel’s past but I dont think Angelus was ever really the same kind of stalker. Meltzer did this out of ‘love’ (albeit his own kind of twisted love) whereas Angelus was never capable of any kind of love. He was in it purely for the thrill of the hunt and the kill. The scene where Angel talks about loving someone completely was likely in reference to Buffy but that doesn’t mean that he can relate to how Meltzer loved. It was never Angel who had a threatening obsession with Buffy it was Angelus who it had been established is a very different being from Angel and was obsessed with Buffy for very different reasons than Meltzer was with Melissa. To me there is no real parallel here and I dont seee why there needs to be one. I think that the message of Melissa standing up to Meltzer and taking control of her own life is far more interesting and inspiring than yet another (failed) remindor of Angel’s dark past.


  12. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on January 13, 2010.]

    What the hell? No really, what the hell? His eyes float. Now I understand this is a fantasy series, but come on. He chokes the cop to death…..what training academy did the cop go to? They’re detached hands so there is no body to swing at, but there still needs to be arms attached to give them more strength.

    Strange to see D’Hoffryn playing a surgeon. Stick with the demons…not the human demons.


  13. [Note: Seán posted this comment on September 10, 2010.]

    Emily, I noticed that inconsistency too about Angel drinking coffee. Normally, Whedon is pretty good with continuity but that was a mishap. And also – I thought it was said somewhere – either in BtVS or AtS – that vampires preferred not to eat or drink because the taste of food and drink is too dull for them and provides zero nutritional value.


  14. [Note: Jenn posted this comment on December 6, 2010.]

    My favorite quote of all time:

    CORDELIA: You’re a lot smarter than you look. ‘Course you look like a retard.


  15. [Note: Alexei posted this comment on November 29, 2012.]

    At first i really disliked this episode, but now when i took a better look at it, its not that bad. Just the doctor plot was really bad. Body parts removing is just ridiculus. And yeah, the last fighting scene was bad.


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

    You talk about Angelus, but there’s also a lot to say about soulful Angel: in season 1, Angel is a stalker. He follows Buffy and tries not to be seen, he watches her sleep and I found it creepy ! Not as creepy as Angelus (or soulless Spike in season 5), but still: stalking !

    Angel, before becoming a vampire wasn’t exactly a romantic or the paragon of virtue, his behavior in life was light: getting drunk, wanting carnal pleasures, denying responsibilities. He learned compassion and love with Buffy. See the lines:
    Angel: She’s being stalked. I think it could get ugly
    Kate: She’s being stalked, then ugly it already is.

    It is very revealing: even if his intentions were good when he was stalking Buffy, just the fact that he did was very wrong, and that’s something he didn’t understand. He was lucky that Buffy found him attractive and, as a teenager and a slayer, wasn’t more scared. But, if you think about it: take a 50 years old guy in love stalking a 15 years old girl and tell me it’s right. That’s one of the reasons I found the start of their relation icky. Oh, and he didn’t lose his stalking habits: BtVS “Pangs” and the consequences in AtS “I Will Remember You”.

    Angel’s relations are now with women (Kate or Cordelia), thus healthier and more spiritual.


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