[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Shawn Ryan and Mere Smith | Director: R.D. Price | Aired: 01/23/2001]
“Blood Money” marks the first step into Angel’s new and ongoing crusade against Lindsey, Lilah and Wolfram and Hart. Like many good Angel episodes, it provides with an entertaining set of ‘now’ moments while offering insight to and reflection on the characters’ current position in the story arc of the season. It continues with the dark and gritty tone set by the previous episode, with Angel slipping in and out of picture at times (even if not as stylistically so as the last episode). Also, and in a way a bit better than “Redefinition” [2×11] we get a more deft balance of humour with the drama through the development of Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn, whose progress here is as fun to watch as Angel’s is intensely interesting.
What “Blood Money” really does best is talk about what we could define as ‘the mission.’ It’s what Angel found in “City of” [1×01] and what Gunn realizes the truth of in “That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03]. How episodes like those – and the show in general – define ‘the mission’ is as something beyond slaying evil fiends; it’s about saving souls. Helping people bit by bit to make life worth living by taking a moral stand not just against evil, but against injustice, wrong and suffering and what causes it, even if it can’t be fought by sword; sometimes our inner demons are our worst. So, here we take a good hard look at what the mission has become for Angel now that’s he redefined his objectives.
He does this through Anne. You may remember her as Chantarelle from Buffy’s “Lie to Me” and Lily from “Anne” . She took Buffy’s false name because of the significance Buffy gave to it for her by saving her life while in L.A. Clearly she ended up staying in the big city, like Angel has, and has turned into an adult because of what she’s been forced to experience, like Angel. She’s also turned to helping people via her teen shelter, which is about to make a massive amount of money through a fundraiser organized by Lindsey and Lilah at Wolfram and Hart, which is why Angel begins following her. This alone sends up red flags; Angel outright stalks her, profiles her and lies directly to her to gain information.
Angel sets out here to help the helpless by trying to convince Anne that Wolfram and Hart’s intentions are evil, even if they will benefit her shelter. He claims correctly that any percentage of the money that they keep likely will go to hurting other people and that any money that Anne sees will have that blood on it. Like Angel, she too has an objective, is motivated by horrors to accomplish it (such as her description of the abandonment of teen junkies) and is willing to do the entirely wrong thing for the ‘bigger’ right. But Angel’s helping her goes only so far as it’ll get him in the door at the fundraiser and help him get disparaging evidence against Lindsey and Lilah into the open.
However right he is, helping Anne is merely a means to an end in his major objective of destroying Wolfram and Hart piece by piece. There’s a taint in his voice of righteousness; he can’t deny that he cut off Lindsey’s hand, and that Lindsey deserved it. He attempts to console her and explain the moral wrong, but even in his voice we can hear how it feels like process to him as he goes through the traditional motions of ‘saving a soul’ because he knows who Anne is: a good person who will ultimately do the right thing. And that will swing in his favour. In a chilling scene (my favourite of the episode), Angel explains to Lilah that he now understands the rules of ‘the game’ and this is made all too clear by how willing he is to exploit his former mission.
In the end, no deception or cruelty is beyond that of a believer with an objective. It’s what I said of Lindsey in “Blind Date” [1×21] in which Holland Manners wedged himself into Lindsey’s moral crisis, appealing to Lindsey’s sense of good by saying that all of W&H’s terrible deeds led to its ability to control things, which made for a better world. Unlike Lindsey, however, neither Angel nor Anne are inherently weak people like Lindsey, who longs a bit too much for power. In spite of the incredibly high stakes (especially for Anne), both give up what they want for a moment to do the right thing. Anne helps Angel at the risk of her shelter while Angel takes a bloody beating to get all of the money for her.
Throughout the episode Angel uses several people to accomplish his ends, all of them rather viciously: Merl, whom he subtly threatens and only ‘promises’ to pay (at least he’s not using water torture this time) and Boone, whose sense of honour and old-fashioned propriety come in handy as a distraction. The difference between the demons and Anne is what Angel sees of himself in each: Merl is opportunistic and willing to do anything for his benefit. Boone, while hardly evil in the traditional sense, is out for glory and his ego. In the demons there is a reflection of what Angel has forced himself to become: self-centered and on-track towards one glorious goal. He doesn’t necessarily like what he’s become, even if he requires it.
And even if he doesn’t want to anymore, he still has a care for the helpless, which is what he sees in Anne; the last glimmer of what’s good in his personality and the image of good that he’s doing terrible things for. There is still hope for Angel, as bleaks as things seem. On the other side, the development of Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn in this episode runs in the opposite direction. Their care for one another and for their personal mission becomes stronger than ever. What they struggle to suppress and what only comes out in blips are their negative feelings; anger with Angel and the past of their old lives.
Where Angel exploits even his allies, Wesley and Gunn rely on one another to work as a team when killing a large demon. Their down and out moments portray frustration and boredom, but even in this they’re quite the unit; all hanging out at Cordy’s and playing games with one another (who knew Gunn could strategize? Who?). By the end of their story they’re pondering names for a new agency and checking up on real estate to find a new office space. That they’ve forgotten Angel is as likely as Angel forgetting them, but like their old boss they’re forcing themselves to move on to the next thing, as it is the only thing that will get them where they’re going.
It’s a good continuation of the thread started for their new union in “Redefinition” [2×11], if a little unsatisfying here. Angel’s storyline eats up a good deal of the episode’s time due to the Boone subplot which, despite some fun, was merely a well of untapped potential. The character is a standard demon enemy, but with a personality quirk, which helps fit into Angel’s plan and does little more. The one-off line about Boone’s grudge with Angel being started over a feud about a girl (which we assume Angel was protecting from the demon) can hardly even be applied to the Anne situation. It’s disappointing that the character of Boone is little more than his plot-convenient oddity, as the suggestion of something sexual concerning the woman would’ve made for an interesting vilification; maybe it could’ve had something to do with the woman’s honour? Perhaps Angel himself was the desecrator of that honour and not Boone? Either of those would’ve made worthy stories and parallels to the main story in and of themselves.
Since they didn’t appear, it would’ve been better had this entire character be cut, leaving us with more Wes/Cordy/Gunn time. Regardless, I enjoyed the vast quantity of the episode which managed to fulfill the arc and the immediate timeslot. The use of Lindsey and Lilah’s paranoia about their new positions and their conflict with Nathan, a persona that will grow to represent everything Lindsey despises about a Wolfram and Hart, functions as a pretty interesting little side note (I particularly enjoyed when he called them ‘expendable) and is some solid writing. It’s also an accurate portent for this series and this arc: Things may get better, but they’ll get a lot worse first.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Gunn saying the ‘Angel Investigations’ business card looks like a lobster. Nice throwback to “Lonely Hearts” [1×02].
+ Angel giving away Cordy’s clothes. This was a small, but nice touch about how he’s trying to force his distance from his old life.
+ Everyone picking on poor Merl. Guy can’t catch a break.
+ Cordy’s filmed lamenting: “Why am I not working?!”
+ The stylish cut away as the final fight begins; I liked that it was left to the imagination.
* Despite his manipulation of Anne, Angel ultimately helps her selflessly, showing a bright spot in his personality even at his darkest stage. In “Epiphany” [2×16] he fully realizes this by returning to the gang and genuinely apologizing.
* Lindsey’s use of his new power to target Angel, as well as his protests against Nathan’s adherence to company policy on Angel, show his growing frustration with Wolfram and Hart’s manipulative modus operandi. In “Dead End” [2×18], having being betrayed by Darla and now screwed over, he finally leaves them, and L.A.