[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Jane Espenson and David Greenwalt | Director: Scott McGinnis | Aired: 11/02/1999]
“Rm w/a Vu” is a fairly exceptional episode. It marks the third major facet of the S1’s most visited metaphor: Life in your early twenties. The Fang Gang has now moved to the big city (“City of” [1×01] ), tried to go out dating (“Lonely Hearts” [1×02] ), and now they need to find a new place to live. More specifically, Cordelia does, and one of my favorite things about this episode is that we get some very real and significant focus on her, and to a lesser extent, Doyle. These two have had smallish whimpers of development thus far, and here we at last get our attention’s worth for them.
Since finding your own place is a major part of growing up beyond the school years, it’s inevitable that it would be touched on and is done pretty well. After finding brown tap water, messy rooms and cockroaches in her apartment, material girl Cordelia has decided she has had enough. The episode’s main plot follows her as she tries to find a place and eventually does, but discovers that it’s haunted by a rather malicious ghost named Maude who believes her to be her son’s fiancee, a woman she clearly despised during her life. The initial assumption is that she dropped dead of a ‘heart attack’ just before her son disappeared and it is assumed he is the killer.
The secondary plot concerns Doyle, and gives us more insight into his past, as a particularly nasty demon comes after him looking to collect some unspecified money. The two plots work together well from a story standpoint; Doyle works on finding Cordelia an apartment through his connections in exchange for Angel’s help with Griff, the aforementioned demon. And, having cheated them for the last time, the demon and his employees come after Doyle with a taste for blood, only to arrive at Cordelia’s new place in the middle of a rather large ghostly upset. It’s here that Angel gets the upper hand against the demons, and Doyle’s problem is solved.
Angel weaves in and out of these two plots, continuing his mission to save souls, but this time focusing on his friends: Trying to help Cordy regain her self-worth, and trying to help Doyle find direction (as he has spent much of his life since discovering his demon heritage drifting and mindlessly reacting). The threads do tie together well, but lack any thematic cohesion and the episode does suffer a little for it. Being an avowed fan of Doyle it’s easy to say that I wish there had been more of him, but in this case I truly believe a separate episode for his plot would have made a better fit.
What does fit is everything Cordelia. There are some very entertaining scenes here, such as seeing unpleasant land lords hit on her, and Doyle fallaciously trying to play chivalry. But where the episode picks up some points is in the character of the ghostly old woman, Maude. Like Cordy she is a material girl. Her life and sense of self-worth were supported not by who she was, but by what she had and how her carefully arranged and stable world was defined. Cordelia lost this stable world when the government discovered that her parents had ‘forgotten’ to pay their taxes for over twelve years (BtVS “The Prom” ), leaving her to descend into subsequent financial dregs.
Obviously she was willing to make sacrifices for what she wanted (such as living in her poor apartment), but had a quickly reachable breaking point as the carefully dependent do; Maude did. Her perfect world was shattered by her son’s choice of a fiancee. Though claiming to be acting for his good, Maude clearly cared nothing for her son, being extremely selfish and material as she was. She decided it was easier for her to tolerate the full absence of his life rather than deal with an unwanted set piece (his fiancee, whom she referred to as a ‘streetwalker’) in hers.
The strength of the parallel between the two makes this plot attention-worthy even before we learn the truth of Dennis’ murder. The need of both women to control as much as they can around them, to have their worlds go back to the way they were, represents everything they believe themselves to be. This is why the apartment is so hard fought for; Maude sees the removal of any young woman (whom she supplants as the fiancee) from her house as re-establishing her world in a way she couldn’t in life (which is why it was so brilliant to make her a ghost, as angry poltergeists are often depicted as ruthless and single minded in their goals). Cordelia, however, sees the apartment as her; if she doesn’t have things, shiny, expensive things, then she is not Cordelia Chase and she becomes nobody. It’s in this respect that Maude almost does defeat her.
It’s when she rises from the ground with her charmingly campy “I’m the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history!” speech that the apartment takes second chair, and proving to herself that she’s more than a than place or a thing becomes priority. In this, she is able to defeat the ghost both in her mind and in the ghost’s; as she takes a stance that transcends the materialistic (the only thing Maude knows). This leads to the impulsive, but somewhat unexplained discovery of Dennis’ remains hidden in the wall of the apartment that she happened to ‘not like’ right away (she instinctively smashes through it after the confrontation).
The brief flashback that follows gives us the final pieces of the puzzle, and also introduces us to lovable Dennis, who remains a briefly appearing but very likeable ‘character’ on the show for some time; but it did feel kind of weird. The transition was offbeat and it hurt the pacing of the episode, I believe. I also admit that I felt a bit vindicated by seeing the frail, elderly woman (an archetype usually used for cheap sympathy) turn out to be the murderer, rather than the ‘impulsive’ young man. So often the violent, abusive male is also used as a cheap emotional device and I enjoyed watching the cliche being kicked in the head so wonderfully as only a Whedon show can kick.
As for Doyle’s side story: it doesn’t beg a whole lot of exploration, since all it needed to do was establish what kind of a past he really does have. In “City of” [1×01] he mentioned that everyone has something to atone for, and we’re starting to see what that means to him. Whatever burdens him (the truth of which is revealed in “Hero” [1×09], when his fear of his half-demon side rendered him too cowardly to save his own kind from a genocide) clearly weighs heavy on his soul, as he believes that he deserves the shadowy life he’s fallen in to. This provides the only real counterpoint here to the A plot; Cordelia needs everything, and Doyle wants nothing.
So, thanks to some smart and definitely relevant character development, what could have been a C episode reaches about a B. Learning more about Doyle’s life was also some good fun, and even though Cordy still has a long way to go, this is an important first step for her character and it was worth seeing. Plus, shes gained a new roommate, one who, as another fan so eloquently put it, is perfect for her: invisible and easily intimidated.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The entire exchange at Angel’s place; peanut butter?
+ Apartment hunting montage. The cult house with the shower-sized rooms was hysterical, as was the beer gut guy.
+ Cordelia’s declaration; “I’m not a sniveling, whiny little Cry-Buffy.”
+ Dennis the Ghost.