Angel 1×07: The Bachelor Party

[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.”


Foreshadowing

* 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] .


[Score]

90/100

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10 thoughts on “Angel 1×07: The Bachelor Party”

  1. [Note: fryrish posted this comment on April 17, 2006.]

    Pleasantly surprised to see this episode get a 95 rating. It’s always been one of my favourites but is often discounted, up there with the funniest episodes of and has a lot of great character moments. They had to have this episode for Doyle’s death to have a big impact IMO. He was a really great character.

    Also, top marks for putting so much thought into episodes that may on the surface seem a bit slight.

    One disagreement though. I don’t think the show’s ambivalence to expose the exact nature of the soul is a problem with the mythology. I can see now that I am going to disagree with some stuff in your review of Hero. 😉

    Like

  2. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on April 17, 2006.]

    Well, in retrospect to the entire series it was even better as it was the very first time that AtS boldly put forward the idea of that kind of a gray area, and it was important to note.

    More to the point: Thank you! It’s nice to know i’m not the only one who adored the episode, as i’ve seen it knocked about often enough (not called horrible, but people tend to discount its obvious strengths).

    As for the mythological inconsistencies: they just bug me. It’s not as though it’s something akin to the PTB or the Senior Partners, where we’re kept in the dark for a sense of mystery and the age old writing tactic of letting our imaginations do the work for the writers, it’s just something that was introduced but never rounded out. The questions were raised, but all the answers weren’t given.

    That said, it’s the gray area concept that makes AtS’ mythology as interesting to me as Buffy’s, so i don’t, by any measure, dislike it.buffyholic

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  3. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on January 29, 2008.]

    I have to say that your score surprised me. Sure I like this episode a lot (more because of character development) but I never imagined this episode any higher than an 80. But still, I get your point.

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  4. [Note: Sanjuro posted this comment on December 1, 2008.]

    In addition to the themes you brought up, I’d say the episode also touches on both the riskiness of marrying young and the regret and pain at having to watch your ex move on, even when you want them to be happy. That last part would have been a lot more obvious if the demons were going to tear out Doyle’s heart and eat that, but a metaphor doesn’t have to beat you over the head to work.

    The only thing I don’t like about the episode is that Richard barely reacts to Harry dumping him. He looks sad, but then his buddies tell him that he doesn’t need her and he just kind of looks like he watched a game and his team lost. That to me throws the question of their souls into question more than anything else: Richard clearly cares for Harry deeply when we meet him and throughout the episode, but he’s more or less impassive when she leaves him the night before the wedding. Personally, I don’t think the issue of demon souls drags this or Hero down, but the inconsistency here bugs me.

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  5. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on October 23, 2010.]

    Really well done. To my mind, the best episode yet. Doyle became a whole lot more interesting, and Cordelia did too. Plus the fight at the party with Doyle strapped in was quite funny.

    Too bad they had that lunch scene where the demon family chats about eating his brains. First, it was an obvious setup for something evil … I knew that the Cleaver arrangement meant that these apparently nice demons were baddies. Second, it killed much of the suspense of the party itself. I would of course have suspected that something bad was going to happen, this is Angel after all, but I wouldn’t have guessed that, not at all.

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  6. [Note: Mona Lisa posted this comment on March 11, 2012.]

    Has anybody besides me, noticed that the actor playing Richard is the same guy in the Buffy episode “Anne” (3×1) who has that child care house?

    Like

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

    Interesting how they all realize they have bonded. First Angel acting like a big brother, then Cordelia recognizing Doyle as a good man. And it looks like her relation with Xander has really broken something in her: the one time in her life she chose not to be shallow turned out to be a disaster.

    About the soul, in BtVS it’s never mentioned that all the demons were soulless. We know that vampires lack their soul but they can still experience strong emotions. They are inherently violent and bloodthirsty because it’s the nature of the vampire demon. But not all the demons are the same and they’re not all driven by the same impulses.

    It seems that D’Hoffryn’s vengeance demons retain their souls and, like some humans, forget or choose to push aside compassion, love, remorse or any morality compass.

    Here, what’s interesting is whether or not humans could have done this and the answer is: yes, though not the average human. But to be fair, it really looks like these demons are soulless.

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  8. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on May 24, 2016.]

    I’ve got to admit that the affable demonic Richard is a bit too reminiscent of a certain affable demonic Richard from Buffy proper.

    Like

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