[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Tracy Stern | Director: David Straiton | Aired: 11/16/1999]
“The Bachelor Party” starts, as so many episodes in this fictional universe wonderfully do, with some on-topic discussion. Doyle is unhappy with the current situation, being stuck around the office. As a marvelously gowned Cordelia leaves with a high class date, he laments his complete lack of a chance with the Sunnydale ditz, playing further into his self-pity over his much loathed half-demon side. This is Doyle’s major problem as we’ve seen him so far, and as we find out, has plagued him for many years: He can’t accept, let alone embrace his demon side, and it has caused far more trouble than simple Cordelia-related anxieties.
The arrival of his ex-wife Harry (Harriet, we assume; women in the Whedonverse have very masculine-esque names, don’t they?) sends him into a searing tailspin of emotion as we can see from the first moment they lock eyes. Glen Quinn, whose charisma makes his character so entertaining and fun to watch, significantly steps up his acting throughout this story. The depth and vulnerability brought to the table in the quiet scenes with Harry, as well as Doyle’s inner conflict and finally his acceptance towards the end, would’ve been just been a consequence of the writing if not for the work of the talented Quinn.
The whole meat of the episode is strictly about his character, and while we’ve only gotten shady hints about his life thus far we are at last given some real substance in exchange for the wait. Allen Francis Doyle, as he informs us is his full name, was an upright citizen; a young man of twenty who loved his wife madly, volunteered to help the needy and taught third grade at a school. It seems akin to an old-fashioned American parable: the poor man who has nothing, and yet everything.
This is probably the best episode since “In the Dark” [1×03] and it’s easily the most important. It carries a simple morality tale, the moral of which is: Be true to yourself. Having discovered his half-demon heritage a little over a year after being married, Doyle claims through all his years that Harry had rejected him because of it, becoming angrier and harder to live with when she supposedly “pitied” him with her understanding. When he discovers that her new fiancee Richard is also a half-demon, he comes to the blinding revelation that it wasn’t pity, and that all that’s been done was truly his doing, hence he signs the divorce papers.
Later, when Richard invites Doyle to his Bachelor Party (which contains the most shamefully stripped-less stripper I’ve ever seen), his thoughts are still swirling even to the zero hour, but he eventually decides that he now has a chance to forgive himself and finally make his wife happy the way he never could, and gives his blessing to the new marriage. This is an admirable act from a really good guy, who we can tell truly still loves Harry, and it represents an important first step towards accepting both his past and his present (his demon side; one that will always be with him). Though, he still some issues to conquer, retracting his demon face quickly when Cordelia arrives on the scene.
The plot itself is basic, but like so much of S1 has its charm in its execution. Cliche’s are amply kicked out here when Richard turns out to be a demon, but Harry knows and appreciates it; she’s an ethnodemonologist (of course, Angel breaks a very expensive window and tackles him before finding this out). And, the whole twist about demonic culture and the eating of Doyle’s brains to bless the marriage made for some good comedy, and a decent fight sequence. This episode’s plot is also important in helping to establish the mythology that makes AtS more than a differently-named show with the same kind of monsters as BtVS. We’ve seen that monsters in Angel’s world are not just pure, mindless evil, but are capable of human fallacies such as inadequacy (“Lonely Hearts” [1×02] ) and desperation (“I Fall to Pieces” [1×04] ).
Today’s lesson is deceit, among other things. Like a human man can, Richard is already keeping secrets from his wife to be. But that’s not even the most interesting thing about his family, as this episode is the first of many in the series to purport that not all demons are dangerous or evil, but are in fact assimilated into society, hold their differences as mere culture, and live just like the rest of us; distinction is important, lest one becomes a mindless killer themselves. But then again, is Richard’s clan all that trustworthy? Apparently not, as their demonic side is seems more dominant than their human side, leaving them with no ethical quandaries over killing Doyle to gain their blessing.
But, this does bring me to my only real problem with this episode, and it’s a problem that hurts AtS’ mythology as a whole (and sadly drags down what would’ve been an otherwise perfect send off for Doyle in “Hero” [1×09] ): The unanswered question of a half-demon’s (or assimilated demon’s) soul. The Buffyverse has taught us that the soul gives an individual the ability to determine right from wrong. We also know that every demon that exists on Earth has to have some part of it that is human (meaning one could have a soul), as pure demons no longer exist in the human dimension. Finally, the lack of a soul tends to make someone amoral, completely selfish and otherwise a killing machine, or at least capable of feeling no guilt for any such sin (see: any demon).
Doyle clearly has a soul, though we’re not sure about Richard’s Ano Movic clan. They’re capable of murder, and clearly feel no guilt, but humans can be too (though are not by their nature). We’re led to assume that the clan is leaning towards soulless evil, but killing in the name of revered culture is something humans have done for thousands of years with no hesitation or remorse (these types defend their actions too; when Harry calls the practice barbaric, the Ano Movic’s accuse her of racism). Do they lack souls? Or are they just dogmatic? Could they be both? Some demons are hung up on their heritage, and kill for ritualistic purposes. Unanswered questions such as these bug me here, as well as in several other episodes (such as “That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03] ) and the distinctions (on demonic souls), to my knowledge, are never fully explained. I’ll go more in depth on the subject in my review of “Hero” [1×09] where it’s more relevant, and actually wounds the episode; in this episode it’s just a nagging misfortune, since the writers do at least try to give us an answer.
Angel’s and Cordelia’s roles in this episode are that of side players while their friend at last takes the stage, but there is one scene with Angel that rounds out his part: the conversation about breakups. Just as Doyle and Harry knew not the demon inside him, Angel and Buffy couldn’t have predicted his. It’s a really good comparison, and I liked exactly how Doyle described the pain and power of young love (perfectly tailored for Angel and Buffy). There’s also some important development for Cordy. Her fancy, upscale date not only bores her with his shallowness, but is a complete coward, thoughtlessly abandoning her with no second thought when a vampire attacks them walking back to the office. Doyle manages to save her, and it causes a conflict in her mind. Of course she’s Cordelia Chase, ‘Blue Box’ champion and the Bitch Queen of Sunnydale, but that doesn’t stop her from recognizing what she calls substance; she’s moved by Doyle’s sole concern for her well-being, even after he takes a tough beating himself.
It’s the same reason her relationship with Xander Harris was a natural fit: She’s still a decent human being with needs that transcend the materialistic (this she started to recognize in herself in “Rm w a Vu” [1×05] ), and she’s beginning to see that Doyle can fulfill some of those needs. That she takes an interest in him, and genuinely tries to make him feel better after the party shows the turn their relationship has taken; substance.
And, aside from the questions surrounding the demon clan, this episode fails to fail in any way, in terms of both entertainment value and impact. I particularly liked how Richard counter pointed Doyle (in terms of their embrace of their demon halves), and the dialogue for all the characters was sharp and pointed.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Doyle asks Angel of Buffy “how does she feel about men with an Irish accent?” Angel was born and grew up in Ireland.
+ Angel’s complete non-reaction to meeting Doyle’s wife.
+ Carlos Jacott as Richard. His attitude towards eating the brains reminded me of Mayor Wilkins from BtVS S3; creepy and charmingly can-do.
+ Doyle’s protectiveness of Harry.
+ The idea of a demon mixer.
+ Harry’s comment: “One word, Francis, just one and I’ll eat your brains.”
* Doyle still loves Harry, but learns that it’s not his job to watch out for his ex and interrupt her life. Angel learns this same lesson in the crossover episode “I Will Remember You” [1×08] .