[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Tim Minear | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 11/09/1999]
“Sense and Sensitivity” is another fun, fairly light hearted episode that also gets to the root of some pretty important issues. This is in keeping with the previous episode which was mostly happy-go-lucky, yet had Cordelia near-suicide at the behest of a murderous ghost and equally murderous demons at the throat of Doyle. Here, the writers tackle another issue that becomes important once you hit the adult world beyond school: Sensitivity. But, what is it really? Is it important? To what extent is it appropriate and, how dangerous can its lax extremes be? These are some of the issues that face adults in the modern world every day, especially in the increasingly tolerance-freaked working world where there are still men who petition employees as sexual playmates and women who constitute any mention of a female part as sexual harassment.
Seeing this subject tackled was kind of fun. The focus here lies in two characters: Angel, firstly; his rough, broody exterior is being found by his friends to be too insensitive. After hacking up a slimy demon he pretty much orders them to clean it up quite gruffly, gives little thanks and keeps tossing orders when they get back to the office. Cordelia is downright insulted by his lack of concern, and even Doyle seems a little hard-pressed to defend the dark avenger. It also seems to be eating into their social lives, and Cordy in particular feels unappreciated in proportion to what she’s giving up. Then there’s Kate, who is emotionally bottled and takes out her rage on (admittedly deserving) criminals, but to measures found too extreme by her colleagues. We’ve seen a bit of her character up to this point; she’s forthright, ruthless and gets the job done. But behind every trait is a story and an influence, and finding out Kate’s story is one of the highlights of this episode.
The plot kicks into gear when Angel helps Kate take down a mobster named Little Tony who is (presumably) behind murders of several prominent police officers. Lee Mercer makes his first appearance (to be followed by more comedic appearances in “Five by Five” [1×18], “Sanctuary” [1×19] and “Blind Date” [1×21]) as the Wolfram and Hart lawyer representing Tony, and is notably more chilling than in his later episodes. He’s very entertaining and love-to-hate during his scene, and as a result of his intervention, the police precinct is ordered to undergo sensitivity training (by a trainer who is, of course, demonic, and under W&H’s employ).
In most shows, set ups like these are used like little gimmicks to have the characters acting wildly out of step with who they are for cheap comedy, but occasionally they can be done well. “Spin The Bottle” [4×06] and this episode are both fine examples of character development and important lessons gained through what is, plainly, a gimmick (although “Spin The Bottle” [4×06] is the better of the two). I’d like to say as well that I enjoy writer Tim Minear’s offbeat sense of humour here, and having the trainer’s ‘talking stick’ work as the object of demonic influence was madly inspired; the episode does work pretty well.
The quality peak of this episode hits in Kate’s dramatic breakdown at her father’s retirement party. It was brought on by the sensitivity spell but comes from a very real place. Elisabeth Rohm does some fantastic work here, making the moment both heartbreaking and appropriately sympathetic without overplaying, and it’s where all of Kate really comes to light. It’s pretty simple: Her father was an emotional bottle and so she became one in turn. Allen, the trainer, hit the mark when he spoke to her in the class: “Your inappropriate sarcasm masks anger. And you know what anger is, Kate? – It’s just fear. – Fear of being hurt. Fear of loss. You’ve been hurt, haven’t you, Kate? And you’re afraid of being hurt again.” She reveals in her speech that she joined the force because it was all she knew; all her father could ever express after Kate’s mother left them (the part about Joanne’s mom and the macaroni and cheese was particularly affecting; and what kind of a father would never tell his daughter she’s pretty?!).
Seeing Trevor Lockley, her father, before and after the party we can tell he does care for her and in some way wants to show it, but like her, is trapped beneath his own issues. When he tells Kate of her speech, “you make an idiot of yourself…far as I’m concerned, it never happened,” he really means it. But we see that he still cares, as we find out in “The Prodigal” [1×15], though the consequences also turn out direly. It left me to wonder that maybe if he were capable of being with her more up front he may not have taken to the demonic-criminal element to help his daughter financially, thus indirectly saving his own life and sparing Kate even more pain.
As for Angel, we know his problems a little better; why he’d be reserved and what made him that way: Mostly his ex, although there is more to it and the series gets further into it later on. Angel’s problem is not a lack of emotion or care like Cordelia would suggest; he’s swirling in it with his loss of Buffy and guilt over his past sins. While a bit out of character in his coldness at some points in this episode, it’s clear that his problem is his inability or unwillingness to express his emotions, overt or otherwise. His standing with his friends here reflects a lighter side of Trevor and Kate’s relationship. Through the sensitivity-washing that affects him and the entire precinct, some very funny and decently well written comedy occurs, but more importantly we get answers:
Sensitivity is the awareness of the feelings and motivations of those around you. It’s quite important in a close relationship and needs to be carefully expressed, even though you may be discomforted by it; feeling something in your own heart is not enough, and refusing it open air can harm a relationship. Its appropriateness stretches not much further out past these close relationships and though the occasional dramatic gesture can be just what’s needed, it probably should not be the norm if only for the sake of daily order. True sensitivity should not be practiced in the work place so much as respect and decency. And, taken to the extreme, sensitivity can override logic and rationale.
In fact, it can even create a paradox: the super-sensitive Angel as well Kate and the cops are the embodiments of ignorance and self-involvement; Kate nearly gets killed because of effected-Angel’s refusal to participate in violent action, a police officer releases all the dangerous criminals (while another one is overheard saying ‘I don’t think you’re listening to your mugger’s feelings’) and a fight even breaks out amongst the officers. Notice they’re doing all this because of their own altered and exaggerated feelings, not for any real or sane reason.
What’s best about this episode is how it shows the at-the-time new series’ commitment to making even the smaller players in the game important and well-known to the viewers. BtVS had already done some of that of its own, and would continue doing it until its end (Larry, Jonathan, Warren, Harmony). AtS starts proudly carrying the tradition even this season with Kate, Lindsey McDonald and Lilah Morgan, all of them supporting characters at most yet still given time to smooth into real people we know. One of the best scenes of “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] was so good because of how we knew Kate as Angel does. Likewise, the aforementioned “The Prodigal” [1×15] would’ve been nothing it was without this episode’s set up.
It does have its problems, yes. Some of the transitions from drama to comedy were poorly handled and the material as a whole doesn’t transcend greatness by any stretch, nor is the development as important what’s occurred so far in the series (with the exception of “I Fall to Pieces” [1×04] ). But, it’s far from useless and the entertainment value is good on its own too, as I always welcome seeing Angel try to pull off the wearing of a hat.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordelia chastising Angel’s blindness to those around him while Doyle is strangled right behind her.
+ The place where Little Tony is found is 833 Hyperion Way.
+ Angel in a Hawaiian outfit.
+ Kate under the influence of the training easily spotting Doyle’s crush.
– Little Tony, down to his name, was sadly cliche.
* Trevor (Lockley) instantly suspects the sensitivity class during Kate’s emotional outburst, hinting that he may know more than he seems to. We find out in “The Prodigal” [1×15] that he has been involved in a demonic crime ring, possibly even at the time of this episode.
* Wolfram and Hart has finally caught onto Angel, and Mercer mentions they should take a more personal interest in him. This is the mere beginning’s shadow of the war between Angel Investigations and W&H. It’s interesting to wonder how different things would’ve been in many lives if this one event hadn’t happened.