[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Greenwalt and Jeannine Renshaw | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 11/23/1999]
In BtVS “Amends” , Buffy tells Angel that “Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day.” Unknowingly she gave him, that night, what would be the mission statement of his entire spin-off show. Having watched AtS through to its end a couple of times now, despite the fact that it’s just a TV show it’s given me a lot to think about, and one of the most relevant things to my life that it’s given me personally is how I look at people. As Buffy herself said: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” If you make it to the age of 20 a decent human being, I’d consider you a survivor.
“I Will Remember You” is an episode of great importance and deep dramatic resonance that begs to be perfect and, well, very well could’ve been. Its focus is on the Buffy and Angel relationship, and visiting the ‘life in your early twenties’ metaphor again we see another staple experience: dealing with your ex. Oh, and what a pain it is. As recently as “The Bachelor Party” [1×07] Doyle told Angel about his breakup with his young wife, and how perfectly it paralleled his situation; “….when things go wrong and you’re young like that, you don’t just say ‘Hey, thanks for the blender, I wish you well’. You fight – You tear each other apart until one of you can’t take it.”
This episode falls under the category of AtS’ mission statement of sacrificing constantly for the sake of good (with no big win), the endlessness of which is brought out into the open in the character’s minds in the immeasurable “Epiphany” [2×16]. As his life will always be, Angel has to live without Buffy, and live alone, every single day. In this episode he will have to suffer through having the pain of losing her re-ignited again, and is once again going to have to take a long look into the sun, accept what he’s giving up and then let it go forever.
After Angel’s appearance in Sunnydale, and Buffy’s rather humorous discovery of the fact, she shows up in L.A. seeking answers (actually, visiting her father, which I always thought was just an excuse as he’s always been a deadbeat). The two go through the motions, with their epic drama at a full crescendo, and it’s here that the episode takes a wrong turn. There’s a lot done right, but what really keeps this episode from being perfect, and what I’ll go into first, is the Mohra demon.
It just so happens that there is a type of demon (sent to kill warriors who fight for good) whose blood burns out any demonic essence in other beings, and it also happens that Angel gets some of this blood into a cut on his hand when he decides to fight it own his own away from Buffy, perfectly setting them into place for a dramatic reunion. It’s far too convenient for my liking, and much like “Eternity” [1×17] or BtVS “Enemies” carelessly tosses around something that has, in the past, been made a huge deal of and rightly so.
My other problem is Angel’s foolishly out of character behaviour in his confrontation of the Mohra demon; perhaps he did again become Liam. There’s nothing in his personality to suggest he would suddenly forget the limitations of his strength and speed as a human, and knowing a demon’s strength, certainly wouldn’t be so foolish as to believe he could take it down on sheer force of will. This was done purely to force the confrontation with the demon, and while necessary, it’s a shame they couldn’t have done it more logically.
As for what is done right: everything else. This episode has the deepest, most heartfelt drama that the Whedonverse had seen up to this point since BtVS “Becoming, Part II” . David Boreanaz, who had become an exceptionally better actor since that time, is at the top of his game here as is Sarah Michelle Gellar, and they light up the screen in both their happiest and most tragic moments. The next-to-final scene where Angel confesses his deal with the Oracles is nothing short of masterfully played.
Development brought about by the events herein is also done well and is important to Angel’s character, even more so than the choice he faced in “In the Dark” [1×03]. Buffy’s edited memory of her visit allows her some ability to move past Angel and continue further with Riley back in Sunnydale. Angel’s memory of the grand day out leaves him with further and more deeply important conviction on what he’s really fighting for: souls, humanity and love. That he’s uncertain of his purpose as a human makes him only that much more committed to the mission when the day is erased.
His selfless commitment to Buffy is still present as always; he worries more about burdening her with his mortal weakness than he does about his inability to fight (oh, the romantic types. So priority-challenged). This is clear when he’s willing to fight the Mohra, but not willing to include Buffy (which is still, regrettably out of character). But what matters more than anything is the realization and acceptance of the horrible truth that, once again, they can’t be together. The comparison of tea and crackers to sex and peanut butter also reminds us why they need to stay away physically as well.
Angel’s mission and Buffy’s duty are too great a sacrifice to make, and Cordelia serves up a damn good point when she tells Buffy “you can’t have everything…you can’t have Angel, and save the world!” After facing the Mohra and nearly dying to the tune of putting his true love in danger, Angel realizes this too. This leads to the heartbreaking and flawless scene where the two count down the time to Buffy forgetting everything. This is one of the bold few scenes in the entire series that waters my eyes every time; few others, no matter how emotional, can match.
This episode is also important in how it puts a final sense of closure on Buffy and Angel’s relationship. Sure, the reasons for the split were listed and explained in BtVS “The Prom” and “Graduation Day, Part II” , but there was no real sense of resolution, just Angel walking off into the mist. Still having felt it his right to sneak around Buffy for her better ‘interests,’ (BtVS “Pangs” ), it was clear that Angel believed there was still an obligation for him to fulfill, despite his leaving Buffy; the ‘rules’ of the breakup weren’t clear enough. And, for Angel to carry on in his mission and Buffy to move on with Riley and her life, this episode had to happen.
And happen it did. The whole of the story here is about sacrifice, but take away the supernatural elements and it’s still every bit as powerful. It resonates because of what Angel has to experience and suffer through, and the sympathy he merits borders on empathy because every single one of us knows what it is to live every day with pain, especially those of us who have been in such high-strung relationships. It’s in all this that the episode gains all of its points (and doesn’t go low in score despite its contrivances), in how it has a heart unparalleled by any episode of this season, and overwhelms the episode’s weaknesses; you may not even catch them the first viewing.
That Angel couldn’t keep his heart is a true tragedy, as is the fact that this episode keeps itself from a perfect score, no matter its feats.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Doyle thinking Angel is going to stake himself with his desk leveler.
+ Angel getting the munchies.
+ Cordelia thinking the pile of dust was Angel.
+ The introduction of the Oracles. Their use in the season’s continuity makes their first appearance here appreciated.
+ Buffy and Cordelia. I never realized how much I missed their dynamic.
+ The use of the Buffy/Angel romance music.
+ Buffy swearing never to forget her time with Angel and then doing so.
+ Angel’s face in horrible pain as the temporal fold starts.
– The Mohra demon’s entrance.
* Buffy berates Angel for coming to her town, manipulating her life and trying to change the ‘rules.’ Angel chastises Buffy for this exact thing in “Sanctuary” [1×19].
* Angel gives Buffy up, burdening only himself with the painful memories of their day, so she can move on and be happier. He does the same for his son Connor in “Home” [4×22].