[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Tracey Stern | Director: Regis Kimble | Aired: 04/04/2000]
Angelus, one could argue, is the single most powerful force in the fictional universe of both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel: the Series.” Most fans could only argue for a force equal in power. For “Buffy,” Angelus defined her character; having to kill her one true love to save the world was not only heartbreaking for Buffy (and for us, the viewers), it changed her fundamentally. The ramifications of BtVS “Becoming, Part II” , made her the Slayer; by having to deal with the very most difficult of choices at the highest stakes for the first time, Buffy was no longer a young girl who happened to be a Slayer. She was now a Slayer who also happened to be a young girl, and as the years went by with dangers becoming greater, this only intensified.
All her most difficult experiences, including alienation from her friends as a result of this calling, relationship anxieties with every man she touched, superiority complexes (and the inferiority complexes within them) and a great deal of other issues, can all be traced back in one way or another to her doomed love with Angel, the demon it brought forth and what she had to sacrifice to destroy it.
And if Buffy spent her life in the shadow of that demon, Angel spent his life with it on his shoulders. During both time periods of Angelus’ existence (1753-1898 and 1998), his demonic shadow, a personality that lived to defy the artless, drunken slacker he was in his human life, committed sins too many to count with deviations too horrifying and pre-meditated to name. His drunken, artless life having unwittingly led him to become a vampire, the ensouled Angel’s entire existence was one of a quest for redemption to pay for the crimes of his alter-ego. And the close proximity of Angelus, always within his mind and not too far from the surface, was a constant reminder why saving souls and connecting to them was of the utmost importance: It was all that could deliver him his soul.
(Aside from many other reasons, this is the major flaw of the Angelus arc in S4, as the demon is treated as a completely different entity within the same body as Angel, thereby violating canon and nullifying one of the most interesting and vital pieces to the necessity of Angel’s quest for redemption.)
And so “Eternity” is an interesting and unique little piece, I think. By all accounts, as a critic, I should hate it. Angelus is nothing if not a force to be reckoned with, and this goes for any writer attempting to tackle him as well. I always smile in glee when re-watching BtVS “Innocence” , visualizing Joss Whedon going mad at the keyboard with those joyously evil entendre’s, but Angelus’ importance as a figure in the Buffy/Angelverse is so crucial that his invocation must be done with great care and purpose. This is why, as a critic, I should really hate this episode. He’s used as little more than a device (even if effectively), and yet some solid writing and screwball timing keep this episode on my good side; it was definitely a surprise hit.
The plot concerns Rebecca, a young and down-on-her-luck actress who is struggling to find a niche a season and a half after the end of her cult TV show (this carries some humour for me reviewing this show after its end). When Angel saves her life by pushing her out of the way of a car, she takes an interest in him, eventually discovering he’s a vampire. This intrigues rather than frightens her, leading her to try and seduce him via the Hollywood method – with a drug – which then leads him to become Angelus. See what I meant?
There’s a moral to the story this week too, and this time it’s honesty. The episode opens with Angel and Wesley panicking, trying to escape, and we find out they’re watching Cordelia at a play. Both are patronizing her later, omitting certain facts; not exactly saying they liked it (the play) or didn’t like it as to not hurt feelings, but in fact lying in the process. And in fact, everyone is lying to each other; Oliver, Rebecca’s agent, lies to her about the attacks and her chances of getting a new role. Angel lies to Rebecca about taking her case and to his friends about his criticisms of them. Rebecca lies to Angel and Cordelia as well, but for different reasons and much worse results.
The worth of the episode comes from how the characters deal in and react to these lies, and how it characterizes them more personally. Angel is omitting truths and in some cases outright lying, however it is often out of his sense of justice. Deciding what’s best for others and how to deal with it has always been a part of his character concerning those he cares about, and so his lies to Wesley, Cordelia and Rebecca were well-intentioned; what he believed was better for their protection and/or happiness.
Rebecca is the counterpoint, lying out of a care only for herself, which is all her existence is concerned with. Unable to see the small amount of love she actually has (coming from her agent Oliver, who wants so desperately to help her that he’s willing to terrorize her), she’s as trapped in her character Raven – a forever young, popular, season-limited woman – as her fans are. That she despises them for this trait is an interesting commentary on how she views herself. And yet she clearly envies them to a point, as desperate to forever be Raven as much as her fans want her to be, and it’s for these motives that Rebecca takes an interest in Angel.
She lies to him, manipulates Cordelia into giving information on his life and his Gypsie curse under the guise of friendship, and drugs his drink with a “happy pill” based on this information, betraying him in the most underhanded of ways. The intentions of these lies are what differentiate her from Angel (selfish as opposed to selfless), and yet the writers are careful enough to make us sympathize with her, the sad and slow deterioration of her life gently revealed throughout the episode. Her motivations are never in question and even in her worst moments she invokes that sympathy, which I though was a smart move. Angel expertly sums it all up mid-transformation: “You think you want to stay the same? What you really want is to make it disappear.”
All the pain, deceit and worries of fading away become too much for her, and a life spent so long in service of only one-self drove Rebecca to this end. And what an end it was. David Boreanaz once again was a delight as Angelus and with a few good lines to back up him up too (still not as masterfully written as Whedon’s invocation, however). It was the scene the episode was built for, because Angelus is, if anything, brutally honest. In an evil way of course; Cordelia herself says of Angelus in “Soulless” [4×11] that he “lies with the truth,” which is true. Angelus’ presence here is to bring out the truth in everyone, as he cruelly recants Angel’s insecurities over his friends’ shortcomings, and terrifies Rebecca with every mannerism and gesture.
Their reactions to the ‘truth of the demon’ are the second important part of the show. Cordelia is stalwart and accepting, as is Wesley as well as brave. The truth is not always the most pleasant thing to hear, but what makes them good people and good friends is that they can take it, both of them adamant in their chastising of Angel, telling him that he needs to be just as honest as the “evil” version of himself. Angel learns this lesson well. Though, I doubt he’s ever so cruel. As for Rebecca, the experience simply overwhelms; the truth wounds her, and she is scared off to never come back. Whether this will improve her personality in the long run or not is left up in the air, but I believe such an alarming dump of cold honesty may have awakened some better part of her, and the difference of it to her false life was a giant shock to handle.
Now as I mentioned earlier, it didn’t sit right with me how Angelus was brought about. I didn’t hate the episode, but the idea that a simple drug, a man-made synthetic chemical could have the same effect as true love, and remove something as important as a soul, is downright insulting. It’s where the episode gets all of its demerits. Maybe it was just a poor understanding of the mythology and frankly, I kind of like to believe that despite the lessons learned here, this thing sort of never happened. Cheap is the value of a soul if a simple drug can remove it, and it also leads me to wonder: If it’s that easy, why did Wolfram and Hart never consider a more powerful version of the drug to turn Angel to their ‘side’, as was their plan for him from this season on?
It’s a shame that the writers couldn’t conceive something better to make Angel lose his soul, or a better plot that wouldn’t have to bring him to that anyway. As much as I enjoy Angelus in every frame, even in the deeply flawed arc of S4, the carelessness of it was just shameful. Maybe Rebecca could’ve learned about Buffy from talking with Cordelia, and slipped Angel a drug that would’ve made him believe he was with her? Would’ve sat better with me than what’s here.
Still, there’s value here and this episode is not be totally discounted. If “Somnambulist” [1×11] wasn’t enough of a reminder to the characters of the danger of Angelus, always lurking beneath the surface, this certainly did the trick.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordelia’s line about the ‘idiot network.’ As Whedon fans, how many times have we heard this?
+ Oliver’s second appearance. I love the use of continuity in this show!
+ Rebecca’s sultry curiousity and embrace of the notion of vampires.
+ Cordelia’s giggling.
+ Angelus’ brief, but fun, rampage.
– The entire idea of the happy pill. Insulting.
* Wesley tells Cordelia that the chances of Angel finding true happiness with an actress are slim. Though Angel does fall in love with Cordelia in S3, she is still never like Buffy to him, and we see in “Awakening” [4×10] when he says Buffy’s name in bed rather than Cordelia’s, that Wesley’s comment is, in some odd way, true.