[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Mere Smith | Director: Michael Grossman | Aired: 01/16/2001]
Angel’s transformation begins in “Redefinition,” a dimly lit, thoughtful character study that picks up where “Reunion” [2×10] left off and starts the ball rolling on the darkest side of Angel’s personality that we’ve seen yet (while ensouled, anyway). It’s not as explosive or messy as I might have liked, especially after the high expectations the previous episode has given us, but to say it’s a letdown in any way would be holding it to too high a standard. In fact, it’s some quality work that gets dark and grimy in some traditional ways as we watch our fallen hero slide in and out of frame throughout the city like a shadow, his toneless voice-overs following his every move in an aesthetically ‘noir’ episode, etching out his struggle to free himself of all compassion, restraint and attachment.
The episode focuses on these attempts and frightening successes at completely de-humanizing himself in reversal of all the progress he’s made so far in the series, the purpose of this being to emulate Wolfram and Hart, so that he can fight on their level. It’s an execution of the purpose of this season’s arc, which is one of three specific thematic and plot-related points that the entire series is about: Firstly, growing up and becoming an adult, which Angel and his friends have many staple experiences of (finding your place in the world, learning complex abstract morals, going to work for the big corporation etc.). Secondly, the many sides of redemption (what is it, what constitutes it and how much must be done).
Thirdly and most relevant to the arc, the show explores what it means to be human. When you’re a vampire with a soul, this is a question you might ask yourself quite often. In “Peace Out” [4×21] when Jasmine says Angel’s not a human, he simply responds: “Working on it.” That response is the product of what he learns this year and in the two following it. So far he’s accepted that he is a singular, human person with good and bad capabilities, not a superior being divided by human and demon sides, but now he’s learning what the ‘bad’ of that means, having experienced the good. The mission he began at the end of the “Reunion” [2×10] is carried out in full force now, as he admits to himself that he’s not ready to fight Wolfram and Hart.
But he can get there, he says. Angel chastises the comfort of human affection, saying he’s slept in soft beds for too long and that it’s made him weak. He analyzes Wolfram and Hart as a restless, soul-dead force that takes lives from a safe non-emotional distance to accomplish its means and is determined to get to that point himself. Having fired all his friends at Angel Investigations, he begins by burning the many pictures he obsessively drew of Darla, the last remaining evidence of humanity for either of those vampires. Afterwards he begins physically preparing with rigorous training and practices slaughtering stray vampires; not to save lives or accomplish any end, but just to kill for no real reason at all. He feels that he is ready.
Perhaps the best thing about the episode is how Angel slowly slips from the sight of even us, the viewers. He starts out training in the shadows and then disappears into the sewers, only for us to find him again when he appears to slaughter the vampires. And then again later at the demon fight club, hiding under a large hood and his vampire face. We, the human world, are not privy to his actions as he pulls away from ‘us,’ but only to the consequences of them. His faltering into remembrance of Darla’s few human days while at the club, still feeling his emotions for her almost brings him back down to earth, but once again he forcefully pulls away because he believes he has a job to do. On the way to the factory with Darla, Drusilla remarks that Angel will always come unstoppably galloping – like any good Knight – in the defense good no matter what.
Even she, the seer, can’t see him coming either in his intentions or in his whereabouts. The near-final scene where Angel burns them alive not to fight them or kill them, but just to send them a message, is terrifying for the long time viewer; Angel would’ve put them out of their misery, and Angelus would’ve had no taste for such blunt, mercilessly violent tactics. This is someone entirely different. We didn’t even see Angel slaughter the demons, as he just materialized behind a shadow and a closed door, struck and then left; he’s redefined himself quite successfully and by the end, he’s well on the warpath. There is, however, one flaw that I can identify in Angel’s plan in hindsight:
Despite transforming into a soul-dead killing machine, but he has done so for an objective. He thinks he’s ready to face W&H, but he’s not. “Reprise” [2×15] reveals what “The Trial” [2×09], “Darla” [2×07] and “Blind Date” [1×21] before it have hinted at about the law firm: their intent is not destruction, nor the victory of evil. Their intent is simply to be evil; to be a functioning representation of the innermost malice of every human being on the planet (something that can never go away) and their ultimate goal is not to win, but to be right. Holland Manners calls winning “prosaic” in “Reprise” [2×15], which it very much is when you can convince your sworn enemies (Angel and the believers in good in general) that you are right.
Wolfram and Hart is not in it to win, they’re in it to exist, in a way, and due to that Angel’s plan is doomed from the start. Not that it doesn’t have a considerable effect, however. Cordelia best describes her feelings for Angel’s abandonment as “disappointing,” and Wesley agrees. The gang stalwartly splits and marches off at the start of the episode, only to be re-united by a common sense of purposelessness later on at Caritas, hoping for The Host to help them find their new destinies. Wesley realizes quite accurately when talking with Virginia that his is a very narrow, if exotic, line of work. ‘Watcher,’ ‘Rogue Demon Hunter,’ and ‘Demon Fighter’ makes for an impressive, but largely unemployable resume.
Cordelia, always the emotional heart of the group and deeply attached to people in general despite her material exterior, feels lonely. She knows she was given unique abilities and in “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] seeing all the pain in the world through her visions made her acknowledge the importance of helping the many people who live in pain; she wants to help them and be around them. Gunn is the wild card and is a little harder to figure out. He claims his work with Angel Investigations was just a side gig, but still shows up at Caritas. He has a gang that he often claims loyalty to and could go to quite easily for belonging but is still alongside his Angel Inc. companions.
In fact, his main criticism of Angel from “Epiphany” [2×16] to well into the third season is how he abandoned his friends, yet in this very moment and for many episodes to come Gunn himself finds his loyalties deeply split and progressively getting closer towards Angel Investigations. It could be a part of his character; it isn’t until season four that he begins to get some self-insight and perhaps he really does like working with Wes and Cordy better. But in this case it just seems to be a bit of sloppy writing that doesn’t answer the question within this episode. Be that as it may, all three have their own reasons to be searching new destinies in the oddest of places, descending into drunken venting and clearing house of all the frustrations that have built since this season started.
In the end they are brought together by two undeniably unifying forces, in my experience: Drunken karaoke and hangovers. The Host sees as the Powers That Be do that these three haven’t lost their destiny in the least but have a found a new and important one in each other no sooner than Angel had abandoned them. Slaying a demon and saving a life convinces them of just the same thing and Wesley soldiers on, telling Angel that they’re not giving up even if he is. But they’re not the only ones looking for new paths; the vampires and the lawyers, so often so similar, have new marching orders too.
Darla is as desperate to distance herself from her tie to Angel as he is to distance himself from humanity; you might say they’re trying to accomplish the same thing. Darla’s personality can be identified by one theme: power. She spares Lindsey and Lilah’s life to maintain a connection to Wolfram and Hart, manipulating Lindsey by using his affection for her. Rather than return to her Anne Rice modus operandi of blood-drenched passion and pleasure killing, she attempts to recruit a demon legion for all out war on the human population to make a name for herself. However, unlike Angel and the Gang, she is not so successful at her redefinition; the first sight of him has her swooning until the very moment the flames hit her. She can’t shake her eternal love for this man as Drusilla points out, even if her heart is dead again.
And, last but not least, there’s Lilah and Lindsey themselves, who unlike everyone else this episode are as solid as ever in being themselves. Lilah’s looking out for #1, attempting to screw Lindsey over and Lindsey is too trusting a fool in Darla’s false affection. But he is smarter than Lilah in one way: he understands how his firm works, even if he’s frustrated by it. The one thing they don’t expect is to be redefined in their jobs, especially Lindsey for whom power and ascension are vital keys to his personality. W&H clearly recognize what Holland did in these two, but they’re left with a warning: “The Senior Partners will be watching you.” Now they pack serious firepower and hold more importance, which is going to be very important in the episodes to come (“Blood Money” [2×12] ).
Despite my earlier comments about some disappointment, I must re-emphasize that I liked a great deal about this episode. Its dark, pulpy tone which is rich and stylistically spot-on is in perfect play for both this series as a whole and this stage in Angel’s life. There are long passages of real quality dialogue that flow smoothly enough to please even the pickiest oral fixation and the character development is smart, logical and well presented, if not entirely unpredictable. I place particular value on the ample sense of consequence given to the cliffhanger from the last episode, which is critical to make a cliffhanger a device worth using.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The voice-overs. Initially cheesy, but given the context they really work.
+ Lindsey’s disappointment with Lilah’s survival.
+ Juliet Landau as Drusilla once again. Every nuance of her performance just makes this character. Favourite line: “Dead already? Bad soldiers!”
+ Lindsey’s ‘angry’ look at all the gawkers in the hallway.
+ Gunn, Wes and Cordy’s entire drinking session; this is surly depression at its best.
+ Angel taking up smoking. You just have to be totally heartless to take up smoking.
* Darla continues taking advantage of Lindsey under the guise of emotional attachment. In “Reprise” [2×15] we find out she’s been staying at his place to recover from the fire attack, and exploits him fully to gain entrance to the 75 year review.
* Lindsey expresses anger with Wolfram and Hart’s methods, even if he understands and accepts them. This is the first major hint of how fed up he’ll become with them, eventually leaving in “Dead End” [2×18].