[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Jeannine Renshaw | Director: Thomas J. Wright | Aired: 05/16/2000]
“Blind Date,” in the proud tradition of shows as unique and therefore few as Buffy and Angel, carries on the show’s legacy of secondary character development today, and this time it’s for everyone’s favourite lawyer (if such a thing can exist): Lindsey McDonald. Sometimes a little awkward, and oftentimes forgotten in the same way “Lonely Hearts” [1×02] often is (being right before/after a major episode/premiere/finale), it’s also quite potent and incredibly tense. The episode dives beyond the surface of both Lindsey and Wolfram and Hart, giving us our first real look into an organization that is far too intricate to simply be called ‘evil.’
The plot is simple: A blind, sensory-trained assassin named Vanessa Brewer who is contracted and defended by Wolfram and Hart, is acquitted in a court case in which Lindsey defends her. Following the trial, Lindsey learns of her next targets: a group of child seers who pose a threat to the demonic law firm. Shocked and overwhelmed, he turns to Angel Investigations for help in taking down the assassin and saving the children. Like many episodes in the Whedonverse, the plot is a series of devices used to place the characters where the writers want them to be, and it’s only with extra effort that they’re more interesting than their synopses. Here, the story isn’t all that interesting – Vanessa’s scenes are where interest wanes the most – but the hell of Lindsey’s conflict into which it leads us is both spellbinding and unpredictable.
Take Holland Manners, for example. This is his first appearance on the show, and I was always so glad it wasn’t his last. He’s high on the ladder at an organization as unique as Wolfram and Hart for a good reason, playing Lindsey very effectively, and we’re never quite sure what he’ll do. He follows Angel’s given M.O. for the Wolfram and Hart types when it comes to Lee Mercer’s betrayal; living in a self-constructed world free of guilt and torment where only power and necessity are relevant. Lee is shot on his order, and Holland describes the experience as ‘unpleasant,’ and Lindsey is spared the same fate over far more grievous an offence.
In this episode the focus is on Lindsey, and it plays both as a bringer of back story and a setup for future events. If “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] is to set up the main conflicts for S2, this episode is to set up one of its key players, since understanding Lindsey’s decision to remain at W&H is key. Now, from what we’ve seen of him up to this point, he’s generally a tenacious man who requires control of a situation. He was up front with his legal attacks on Angel in “City of” [1×01], and went behind his superiors backs to have Angel exterminated by Faith in “Five by Five” [1×18], seeing how the ensouled vampire had constantly shaken Wolfram and Hart’s control of certain affairs. He is, indeed, a man who is about power, and of the preference to be the one holding it; Angel’s attempts to take it away from his firm have infuriated him repeatedly up to this point.
It’s here that he has what Angel calls a crisis. News that the group of children is next on the assassin’s hit list affects him very instantly and very clearly, and our next scene is of him arriving at Angel Investigation’s doors. He goes on risking life and limb for this mission, but in the end is won back over by the firm. It’s what holds him there that is the most interesting, and goes back to the idea of power. When Lindsey describes his childhood experiences, we get a very simple, but effective picture of what is driving this man. Not unlike Willow in the later seasons of BtVS, we see that those who are burdened down early in life, or at key developmental stages (such as high school), often go on to desire to become the anti-thesis of their former selves. A young Lindsey McDonald watched his family be stomped upon, with his father willing to let the world roll over him. Now he’s driven by nothing more than the desire to be powerful and never to allow that to be him.
Because of this, Holland Manners is able to manipulate the conflicted Lindsey very handily. As I mentioned, what he is experiencing is a moral crisis, punctuated by a moment where a decision has to be made that will determine whether the crisis is a temporary glitch, or a true epiphany. Holland is able to wedge himself masterfully into that moment and influence Lindsey’s decision by appealing first to his convictions: “Look deep enough in yourself, and you will find that love,” referring to love as a clarity, and an ability to find one’s place in the world and mastering ones own destiny. This ties in to the final scene, as here he’s also offering Lindsey the idea of having that destiny to himself; being the stomper, not the stomped-on. But in the last moments of the episode, Holland himself reaches a perfect clarity – of villainy.
He first appeals to Lindsey’s vanity, complimenting him on his ability to see past right and wrong, and into the greater scheme of power. He also purports that the power that gives them control over the world is a stabilizing force and despite its evil appearance, stabilizes for the better; control, and the right people having it, is better. Holland even goes so far as to say that it is good, and the world is better for Wolfram and Hart’s efforts. Sam Anderson’s intonation of every word here makes the performance just gold for me, and when he makes the final sale: “a thundering raise, and ungodly benefits…. What I’m offering you, Lindsey, is the world,” I felt chills in my spine.
This is the final moment that punctuates Lindsey’s crisis and leaves it as a crisis, although to say nothing has changed for all of this would be a fallacy. If anything, he is now surer than ever of where he belongs. With the belief that the power of the firm can give him the ability to do good, and give him the ultimate control he deeply desires as a human being, there is nothing now in his path that will go too far or shock him again like this incident did. Any examination of religious or political fanaticism will teach you that the only thing on Earth more frightening than a madman is a perfectly sane one with the intense power of conviction, and with this, no evil will ever be too great for Lindsey to commit.
This is the good, and there is an overwhelming amount of it. This is some of the most insightful character development of the season, very nearly on par with “City of” [1×01] or “The Prodigal” [1×15]. There are, however, several issues I do have with the episode as a whole. Once again, I felt Cordelia was underused, barely needed at all. Wesley does not fall victim to this as much as he did in the previous episode, but still didn’t have a great deal to do either (though I particularly enjoyed Angel’s “Thank You, Wesley” moment taking down the demon). Gunn, who is to become a regular next season, also felt forced into the episode. His appearance didn’t bother me a great deal, and was actually quite entertaining; however I didn’t like how anxious he seemed to jump into danger. His sister’s death and the effects on his personality are not that far behind him (weeks at most), yet he seems unperturbed by grief or the risk of Angel’s job for him; he’s even enticed by it.
Before I finish, I’ll touch briefly on Angel. It seems odd to talk the least about the main character of the show, especially when his development is nearly as important as Lindsey’s. However, it is much briefer, and there are three items to note. First off, his reaction to Vanessa’s acquittal is important. Having been fighting for souls in L.A. for nearly 10 months now, Angel is beginning to understand the true M.O. of the big bad world beyond High School, and of Wolfram and Hart; structured for power, not truth, as he puts it. This is also relevant, as we see how the battle against evil and all its pains (Doyle’s death, Kate’s hatred of him) have eroded him slowly and painfully, and the consequences here are evident. In the following episode, when Wesley believes the prophecy states Angel is to die, he doesn’t seem to care; these experiences, as well as his lack of a tie to the world to keep him going in the long term, have led him to this.
The second point to discuss is the parallel Angel plays to Holland. It’s not at all emphasized, but it makes a good point about Lindsey’s choices and what each path holds. Angel offers death, pain, suffering and in the end, salvation. Holland offers power, control and luxury, but with the payoff of eternal damnation (literally; W&H contracts go beyond death, as he himself finds out in “Reprise” [2×15] ). Being on Angel’s end offers nothing for Lindsey, in that one will always find themselves under something else’s heel. I was never sure if he would go back to W&H while watching the first time, but I knew he would never be able to make things work alongside Angel as he was.
Thirdly, Angel finds the Aberjian scroll while raiding the Wolfram and Hart vault, the scroll we will soon learn contains the Shanshu Prophecy, and we see the effect of this as well. I didn’t quite buy that Angel was simply “drawn” to it, but it’s not a big enough problem to bother me, and how it affects him is what’s worth noting. It’s the quietest of moments when Wes tells him that he does truly have his place in things, and just as Lindsey is coming to know of his, Angel is having a hard time believing it, as we’re to see in the magnificent finale soon to come.
In the end only a few regrettable problems keep this fantastic and richly developed piece of work from being truly great. I’m sad to see Lee Mercer go, but just as one big lawyer is about to play a part in the season to come, another has to step down since there’s nowhere really to go with him. And since we’re going to be getting Holland as a trade off, it’s not all that bad at all. Wolfram and Hart was always this series’ most inspired creation, and it’s always a treat to dig deeper into it.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Vanessa catching the glasses. Very bad ###.
+ Holland’s anger at the patronizing use of the word ‘sir.’
+ Lindsey’s reference of Angel’s home life. This was a nice tie in to “The Prodigal” [1×15].
+ Angel snorting and fake-snoring during Lindsey’s tirade.
– Gunn’s faux-rant about the “black man!” And how did he ever manage to smuggle a vamp so effectively?
– The musical swells cued to emotional highs; done very predictably, and sometimes laughably.
* The theme of this episode is largely about power. In “Power Play” [5×21], Angel realizes the truth about W&H as he does now, and decides to take them on in their own style: Not for a victory, or good or evil, but to disrupt that power.
* This is the first time Angel gives Lindsey a chance at redemption. Again in “Dead End” [2×18], he allows him to live so he can have another shot at it, despite having gone back to his old ways after the events here. However, when he returns in S5, it is clear Angel has lost his faith in Lindsey’s ability to amend, ordering Lorne to kill him in “Not Fade Away” [5×22], despite Lindsey pledging his allegiance to Angel’s cause and genuinely appearing to want to change.
* Angel seems to have trouble believing he has a place in the world, as Wesley tells him. This comes to a head in “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22], when Angel faces that issue, and eventually finds his place.