[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Howard Gordon | Director: David Semel | Aired: 01/25/2000]
“Expecting” is an average episode, mostly because of an uninteresting plot that fails to deliver on its on most interesting issues by the end. Where it’s redeemed and finds much of its likeability (yes, I really liked it) is in its importance to the characters and their development. It again visits the great metaphor upon which S1 has been so brilliantly launched (life in your twenties), while going into some even more heartfelt and somewhat unexpected territory: Family. Being a Whedon fan, I of course had no doubt that these different characters were destined to overcome their quirky differences and work together to fight evil (gee whiz, pop!), but this episode provided something more than I expected and it was all the better for it.
By now the Fang Gang have been through a few well rounded ordeals; Cordelia and Angel more than Wesley, but even he’s been in a couple of tight spots with them by this point. So, they’ve bonded, and it’s entirely expected that the guys brotherly grill Cordelia on the nature of her date as she’s set to go out to a trendy club with her girlfriends to meet some guyfriends. Note the word ‘brotherly.’ What writer Howard Gordon is going for here is easily noticed, but not hammered down repeatedly either (thank you for that).
Their attitudes are of note too. Wesley chides her actions like the middle child of a family, viewing her partying as irresponsible and a distraction. Angel, the wizened elder brother, accepts it and sees it as a natural part of being her age, and a phase to be gone through. This is interesting not because of the difference of opinion, but how their opinions are exactly of one mind when the unthinkable happens. Cordelia hits it off greatly with Wilson Christopher, a photographer, at the bar, invites him back to her place and wakes up the next morning eight and one half months pregnant.
Wesley immediately dumps his condescension for deep and genuine concern, personally comforting her, just as much as Angel does. The episode’s strength is here, in its heart. The best scenes are with the group functioning as a family unit; when they discover Cordy is pregnant, when Angel hits the bar (see quotes) and the firing range, and when the trio discusses the whole ordeal back at the office in the last act (a particularly touching moment; see ‘quotes’ again). The metaphor is not as interesting as some of the others that have been used so far, but it puts the characters just where they need to be, since an unwanted pregnancy is one of the hardest trials a family can endure.
And boy is she lucky to have these two for brothers. Angel’s explosive personality is useful here, fueled by his affection, he handily tracks down Wilson who, with a group of other power-would-be’s, have been serving as a surrogate for a demon that needs humans to hatch its children. Wesley’s deductive powers come in handy fighting the demon too, and he takes good care of Cordelia throughout the episode (and gets knocked around for it, again). As a plot device, the pregnancy is effectively used to test the bond of this ‘family;’ this young, surrogate, on-its-own gaggle which more often than not, would fall apart. Now, they’re only made stronger, as Cordy realizes how safe she really is with these two.
It’s at episodes like these that I reflect on what I like best about Angel S1 in comparison to S3 or S4: Every little bit counts. Not every episode is amazing or even very very good, but near every single episode is relevant. There are only two episodes that come to mind when I think of unimportance in S1 (“I Fall to Pieces” [1×04] and “She” [1×13] ), and even those have their charms, if smaller by comparison. S3 and 4, on the other hand, have many more less-relevant or completely irrelevant episodes, and S3 in particular, despite a smoothly working arc, fails to grab interest at many junctures. You can likely guess where I stand on S5.
What keeps “Expecting” from standing out in the anthology that is S1 is its cowardice when it comes to the toughest issues presented. Cordelia’s pregnancy functioned well enough as a device, as I said, but it failed elsewhere. The most terrifying thing about an unwanted pregnancy for young people is the consequences. One loses their social life, education, career prospects, savings – one’s life is altered in a drastic and frightening way that can’t be rectified easily. The only “easy” way out is, to put it bluntly, abortion, which is sort of what the show does; aborts the plot.
The demon linked to the human mothers was extremely lame (though Wesley trying to fight it was almost worth it), and there were no real consequences; it was killed and the babies were destroyed, and almost everything went back to normal. This is kind of an insultingly nonchalant view on abortion too, since most anyone who goes through one will tell you that it’s not a quick, happy recovery process afterwards. Despite the demonic nature of the ‘children,’ Cordelia was forced to have an attachment to them, so you’d think that would linger a bit. It would’ve been more interesting and respectful to see her spend a couple of episodes in a funk, if only a light one.
We’re left with a tighter and stronger Fang Gang, but little else comes of this episode and if it weren’t for that saving grace of development this whole thing would have slipped into irrelevance. It just takes too easy a road out on too tough an issue, leading me to the opinion that if the writers could not have come up with a better way to encapsulate the concept into a single episode, it should’ve been scrapped.
One more thing that I did like was the continuing establishment of the link between the underworld and sex. Vampires themselves were originally created as metaphors for the dangers of sex; cautionary tales for promiscuous young women who enjoyed late night rendezvous’ with dark, mysterious men. Except, in this series, the vampire is the good guy (another kick to the cliche’s head!), and he’s the provider of safe haven from the dangers of those types of men that early writers cautioned us about. I guess he’s more human than he thinks, and a really good big brother for all of it, too.
I guess sex is just bad. Or, maybe Joss Whedon just wasn’t much of a ladies man. Angel and Buffy, Buffy and Spike, Faith, the siring of any vampire (very sexual, as evidenced by both BtVS “Becoming, Part I” and “Fool for Love” ) – apparently sex is just plain evil! What a nuanced cautionary-tale of a series. By and large this was a watch-able, entertaining and at moments, touching, episode. Flawed, but by no means useless.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Wesley’s axe hitting the wall.
+ Angel and Wesley bursting into the wrong house.
+ Cordelia and Wilson’s dating conversation.
+ Angel’s badass takedown of the ‘loser surrogates’
+ Wesley ‘putting em’ up’ to try and intimidate the demon.