Angel 1×05: Rm w a Vu

[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.


[Score]

80/100

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24 thoughts on “Angel 1×05: Rm w a Vu”

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

    I always thought that the majority of this episode was well done and very good, but Cordy’s “bitch is back” speech makes the episode absolutely unwatchable to me.

    Its ranks as the very bottom of the Angel barrel for me just because of that. I literally cringe every time I see that scene

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  2. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on April 11, 2006.]

    I can sympathize with someone’s dislike of that, since it was quite campy. But, that’s exactly why i liked it, since it was done with sort of a cutesy self-awareness. Different strokes, i guess.

    Though, it’s far from the worst i think, and it certainly has more to offer than “She” or “The House Always Wins.”

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

    I like this episode – good character development for Cordelia and hey, it introduces us to Dennis the ghost and who dosen’t love him?

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  4. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on December 13, 2009.]

    This is an episode that gets better each and every time. This was my fourth viewing of this episode now and only now have I put together what you describe in your review, Ryan: that Maude paralles Cordelia when it comes to materialism. This plot fits perfectly to Cordelia´s situation.

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

    “I’m not a snivelling, whiny little cry-Buffy”. Easily one of the funniest lines in the Buffyverse for me. I liked Maude unintentionally reminding Cordelia that she is a bitch, saying it in a derogatory manner but Cordy taking it as her past strength.

    Cordelia was possessed by Dennis I would assume when she smashed the wall in as her eyes were glazed over.

    Not the best episode, but by far not the worst.

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  6. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on June 28, 2010.]

    I personally didn’t care for this one. The ghost woman was just obnoxious, and the entire last section was just a poorly done “haunting” scene (plus the whole demon thing). Not terrible, but not very good.

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  7. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on October 17, 2010.]

    God, that was awful. I can’t believe any score over 10. The Ghost as The Terminator with that ridiculous phone call. The horrible hokey fight scenes. The snivelling Cordelia who becomes Super Cordelia. Stupid effing Kate is researching ghost stories without a hint of skepticism. And about 5,000 other crimes against humanity.

    The worst Buffyverse show I’ve ever seen, gimme Teacher’s Pet any day of the week.

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  8. [Note: Lucy posted this comment on September 16, 2011.]

    I love John Roberts! I always scroll down to see if you’ve commented.

    You’re pretty good too, Ryan. Thanks for doing these reviews.

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  9. [Note: Joe posted this comment on March 20, 2013.]

    I would probably say Cordelia was my favorite character during the early episodes of Angel, but I have to agree with the above posters about the “bitch is back” speech. It was just unbearable. In fact what was even worse was her defeated whimpering beforehand. Everything about it was so out of character for her and just unpleasent to watch.

    I didn’t mind the plot of the episode, it fit just fine, but the way they wrote Cordelia’s part in it was just shoddy and disappointing.

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  10. [Note: Kristen posted this comment on March 29, 2013.]

    I have to say that I didn’t mind Cordelia’s bitch speech nearly as much as some of the previous reviewers. I found her previous wimpery, weepy affect to be out of character, but once she got back on her feet and gave that speech to the ghost, she was back to the Cordy we know and love. I guess maybe I have a higher tolerance for campiness than most though, so maybe that’s why I liked it. Overall I really love this episode – it’s one of the few AtS episodes that I remembered clearly (this is my 3rd viewing- 1st when it was on the air, 2nd about 4 years ago, and now today). And I also adore the line, “I’m not a sniveling, whiny little Cry-Buffy.”

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  11. [Note: Monica posted this comment on April 15, 2013.]

    Cordelia’s “Bitch is back” speech is one of my favorite moments in the entire series, and is the most ‘in character’ she was the entire episode. If anything, the incessant sobbing wasn’t like her at all. She didn’t let her poverty break her spirit in the first four episodes.

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  12. [Note: Tom posted this comment on August 19, 2013.]

    I actually really like this episode however the entire fight scene with Maude and Cordy’s over the top, fake crying was almost unwatchable. Possibly the worst bit of acting in the entire history of Buffy and Angel.

    Like

  13. [Note: FaithFanatic posted this comment on December 31, 2013.]

    I don’t know if it was the acting – I just think it was something the actress shouldn’t have been asked to do.

    Like

  14. [Note: EdwardH posted this comment on January 24, 2014.]

    Sniveling, whiny little cry-Buffy? It’s certainly something Cordelia would say but what a mischaracterization of Buffy!

    Like

  15. [Note: Annie posted this comment on June 29, 2014.]

    I just watched the episode. Can someone explain the context of the quote ” Sniveling, whiny little cry-Buffy” Does she think Buffy is a crybaby? or she is referring to herself as not someone who needs to call Buffy to the rescue? I think Cordy’s freaking out crying scene was not enjoyable to watch as oppose to the beginning where she was seen fearless towards the ghost.

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  16. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on June 29, 2014.]

    I’d chalk it up to bad writing. I guess it could be seen as a reference to all the angst Buffy had over Angel and stuff, but … no. It’s definitely bad writing.

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  17. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on June 29, 2014.]

    Oh come on! It’s just a line of dialogue. Cordelia was obviously referring to the angst Buffy had about her life problems… It’s no big deal, and it certainly isn’t “bad writing.”

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  18. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on June 29, 2014.]

    I’d easily qualify it as bad writing. In fact, I think Cordelia was poorly characterized for the entirety of the episode.

    For one thing, I thought the crying was pretty ridiculous – there’s no way the Cordy of old would take it that badly. For another, ‘the bitch is back’ is the most cringe-worthy line of the series.

    But I don’t see why Cordelia would be referring to the ‘angst Buffy had about her life problems’ because that bears no relevance whatsoever to the situation she’s in. Buffy fought very well and was an excellent Slayer … certainly, she would not have been bothered at all by Maud the ghost. The line sounds very forced and nothing like Cordelia.

    Why do you find it so difficult to accept as “bad writing”, Kyle?

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  19. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on June 29, 2014.]

    I don’t believe Cordelia was “poorly characterized.” Sure, the writers may have exaggerated her behavior in the last part of the episode, but, for the most part, I thought the writers were spot on. Cordelia wanted something to make herself shine again. This was apparent from the very start of the series as exemplified by her desire to become a movie star. She desperately craved something to make her stand out rather than realizing what she could offer to herself. This episode brought this issue to light and showcased Cordelia coming to terms with who she is. She realized she didn’t need any object, career, or place to be strong or, more plainly, to be someone. All she needed to recognize was that she had to accept who she is to do just that. Of course, she doesn’t overcome this problem completely in the span of this episode as illustrated by her desire to keep her visions to be someone important on Angel’s team but it does highlight this particular flaw in her character.

    I do agree, though, that the crying was over the top. I do not agree, however, on the cringe-worthiness of Cordelia’s “the bitch is back” line. I really did feel like Cordelia fought through a major obstacle, one which was holding her back ever since season 3 of Buffy. So it really did feel like she was “back” when she stood up to the ghost…

    And yes, I do believe Buffy’s angst over her life problems did have some analogical relevance to Cordelia’s situation. Buffy moaned and groaned and complained about her problems openly (mind you, I have nothing against Buffy. She is, in fact, my favorite character). Cordelia never really did this with anyone. She kept her problems to herself. This difference between Buffy and Cordelia was illustrated in “When She Was Bad.” In that episode Buffy rudely expressed her pain and hurt to her friends, in other words, dumping her problems on them (this behavior does change greatly throughout the series though). Eventually, Cordelia confronted Buffy, telling her to get over her problems. Cordelia constantly tries to get over her problems or tries to bury them down while Buffy (at least earlier on) expresses them to her friends. I believe Cordelia was referring to this when she was confronting the ghost.

    Although this episode isn’t great, I certainly don’t think it was badly written.

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  20. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on June 29, 2014.]

    The only part I found poorly written was Cordelia’s crying. The rest was campy in, to me, a good way, but whatever… It doesn’t really matter to me. 🙂

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  21. [Note: Nix posted this comment on July 15, 2014.]

    The crying was over the top, sure — but she *had* almost been killed a few seconds before, and she’s not been a fighter before now — she’s been almost killed once before, and it cost her a stay in hospital and Xander. I think a few minutes of what is basically hysterics are acceptable, if seriously unusual for Cordelia under normal circumstances.

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  22. [Note: Monica posted this comment on July 15, 2014.]

    I didn’t think the crying was because of the danger she was put into, I think it was her finally letting down the guard she’s put up for herself when she moved to LA. She hasn’t shown an ounce of weakness despite how badly she’s been struggling up until this point, and once the one good thing that has happened to her ends up going wrong, she finally breaks down.

    This does contradict slightly with my previous comment on this episode, but I’ve since rewatched the series and gained a different perspective. I do think it was a bit overdone, however, and didn’t need to be included.

    Like

  23. [Note: lolo posted this comment on January 31, 2015.]

    I liked this episode a lot but I have to say that being 57 doesn’t normally make some one a little old lady! I understood why Cordelia might be crying….the ghost was trying to get her to commit suicide.

    I liked the lines about reading Latin out loud while they were making the exorcism circle…I thought that was funny.

    Not perfect but not bad.

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