[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Jim Kouf | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 11/21/2000]
“The Shroud of Rahmon” is an interesting episode to follow such a hugely plot-relevant and completely perfect episode such as “Darla” [2×07], its predecessor. It also surprised me a great deal in how much I enjoyed it. Admittedly, the premise is entirely mediocre: An “Ocean’s Eleven” like group of culturally mish-mashed people band together to steal a valuable item – except they’re not people, they’re demons! However, like so many episodes of this show, the writers inject their own brand of storytelling into this mold for some surprisingly memorable and even shocking moments. The aesthetics of this episode are, also, like “Darla” [2×07], worth pointing out; the Hyperion Hotel has never looked more cavernous or glowing, and the claustrophobic museum sets encapsulate the paranoia as it occurs.
To its credit, the episode is also very solidly written, lacking any glaring flaws. Where its score is similar to other mid-arc episodes like “Blood Money” [2×12], this episode simply gets a score based on its merit, not one lowered from its potential by flaws. My absolute favourite thing about it is how well it stands alone – the humour, drama, metaphor and morality of it are self-contained – and yet it fits perfectly within the flow of the twelve-episode Darla arc. It’s also the necessary representation of Angel’s persona at this point, and what helping the helpless means at this time because of it.
The story, focused into one plot, is about the restrictions created by our social bonds. More specifically: the variance of their nature, their importance of their functions and the consequences of their absence. It examines this by looking at the dynamic of two groups, which are the Fang Gang (Angel, Wesley and Cordelia) and the heist group (Angel, Gunn, Bob, and the unnamed spine-backed demon and the ugly demon), with Gunn intermingling between the two of them. The trio as it exists now has been painstakingly defined up to this point; the girth of S1’s method of storytelling was designed to set these people and their dynamics up. By now we know the depth of their convictions about Angel Investigations and what it means to them, though more recently, their bonds have been tested.
From “First Impressions” [2×03] to “Dear Boy” [2×05], Angel experienced vivid dreams of Darla which not only disrupted his work in helping the helpless, but drove a wedge between he and his associates; they were lied to about Darla and endangered because of Angel’s ignorance concerning the problem. Now, with the situation having escalated greatly in “Darla” [2×07], Angel’s fascination with the situation has deepened into a near obsession because of his re-awakened feelings. Because he has an explosive personality that drives him into dramatic action at times of crisis, his situation with his crew has only been worsened by his unwillingness to hear their pleas, suggestions or even support.
More and more this season Angel has operated on his own terms and not allowed his friends any say in the decision making process; Wesley’s comment in the teaser: “You don’t tell him what to do. He’s the boss,” is an accurate statement. This is why the demon heist group is an interesting parallel to the Fang Gang; they are disparate, untrusting and ungoverned, not to be controlled by anyone or anything except their common goal. The Fang Gang may be orderly, but they are far from united in mind, while the demon group manages to be an effective team sans shroud even though they’re all from species and races naturally conditioned to hate, hunt or kill one another.
Rahmon’s Shroud itself is merely a plot device, if an effective one. My main disappointment with the episode, despite its surprising quality, was that the Shroud was never more deeply explained. Outside of what it does to precipitate the events that occur, there is no deeper thematic connection to the episode within it, which is disappointing considering the substantial quality many devices have transcended in this show’s history (even as early as “Lonely Hearts” [1×02] this happened). Effective it is, however, in the commentary it provides on the bonds between the two groups.
The result of the shroud removes the constraints of Angel Investigations from the gang’s minds; Wesley is not quite defiant of Angel, but is at least opposed to his plan of action and before winding up laff-gassed, was certainly of the mind to advise against his decisions as he did in “Dear Boy” [2×05] and “Darla” [2×07] . Cordelia, who early in the episode fretted over embarrassment in the presence of those she felt compelled to impress, loses her illusions of class and image (as well as the law) and haphazardly wanders around while stealing things. The point still stands in the end that despite the otherworldly influence, where any sense of duty or obligation was lost, was that Wes and Cordy’s intents remained, and it speaks volumes about how they view their jobs.
That Wesley’s intent is lost in the haze is only an afterthought, but it’s a fitting metaphorical statement on how Angel’s become wrapped up in his obsession and is unable to hear anything except the madness within. He and the entire demon gang, despite a strong unifying force at their center (the motivation of riches) are quick to fall apart and give in to their raw prejudices when the shroud breaks free. Their bonds lacked any real substance, and the removal the one thing keeping them from bursting forth with their issues leads to chaos; Angel’s frustration with Gunn’s insubordination, Gunn’s anger with Angel’s lording and the other demons indulging in their killer instincts.
It’s here that Kate is brought in, and the episode earns all its points. Kate, always a character concerned with the rule of law (for she knows nothing else; see my reviews of “Sense and Sensitivity” [1×06] and “The Prodigal” [1×15] ) is the perfect person to interrupt those driven well outside the restraints of it. Angel speaks to her not unlike Angelus would: with brutal truth. He accuses her of obsessing (which he knows much about lately) about her father’s death and makes it incredibly clear that she’s become nothing more than a nuisance in his life, interrupting all his dealings with prejudice and a lack of context.
The jaw-dropping moment of terror in which Angel bites her brings their relationship to a head (and I have to say I feel a little perverse about my ‘hell yes!’ reaction to it, but it was about time Kate got a wake up call). For Angel, it is a realization of the truth that the faux swami revealed in “Guise Will Be Guise” [2×06], in which he surmised that in order to stop fighting himself, Angel needed to begin viewing himself not as Angelus and Liam (two divided entities in a body), but simply as Angel, capable of traits of both personas. In the act of drinking Kate, he used the actions of Angelus to fulfill the motives of Liam, who sought to save her at any cost.
For Kate, it was a moment of clarity. For someone as Angel, whom she viewed as not only dangerous (for his vigilante, extra-legal methods), but not even a person, to do what he did changed her entire perception. This is the start of her recognition that he is not simply one thing or another, but is capable of good as well as evil; something she’s known all along, but has been unwilling to acknowledge. Nearly a year after her father’s death, the simple truth that Angel would save her after all she’s done, and did so with an act that epitomizes the nature of all she’s pledged to fight against makes her reconsider how she’s dealt with him. She ends up letting Wesley go freely, and even assists Angel in “Reunion” [2×10] and “The Thin Dead Line” [2×14].
“Shroud” did end up impressing, and did so beyond my expectations. The quality of the dialogue is of particular note; there’s some genuinely funny stuff mixed in here with the horror, and the unexpected scenes of huge impact make this a memorable little standalone. Also appreciated was simply how put together the plot felt; despite the shroud’s shallowness as a device, its examinations of group dynamics were reasonably intelligent, and in the case of Angel’s group, relevant to consider in light of what’s to come this season. Most surprising was the material with Kate, which, despite being in a lesser episode, transcended near every encounter they’ve had, save for in “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22].
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordelia’s new hair. Good. God.
+ Wesley and Angel both ‘noticing’ the hair.
+ Angel’s impersonation of the flamboyant vampire; I love how uppity and sinatresque he is.
+ The squabbling of the demon gang.
+ David Boreanaz letting loose in the scene with Kate. This was good, and I really bought his fury.
– The teaser and closing scenes with the cops interrogating Wesley. These came off as cheesey and totally unnecessary.
* Angel manages to make a conscious choice about his actions even under the influence of the shroud, which removes all ties to the world by driving victims mad. In “Reunion” [2×10], he is forced to lose another important tie and faces a similar choice to the one in this episode.
* In “Reprise” [2×15] Kate accuses the police board of lacking any real context for the events which have unfolded in her life. This has been her greatest flaw in dealing with Angel, and it shows that she did not forget what she learned in this episode.