[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Joss Whedon (Story) and David Greenwalt (Story and Teleplay) | Director: Bill Norton | Aired: 02/06/2001]
“Happy Anniversary” is an odd, screwball little episode that surprised me a great deal. Not through any particular genius or amazing feats, but simply through its unstoppably infective charm that plumbs unapologetic goofiness without departing from the show’s regular tone. It’s also surprisingly smart in its treatment in the case of Gene and Angel’s character parallels, as well as how it develops the principle characters and works within the arc while going off into an odd little world of its own that’s not quite “Angel,” but still is. Sort of. I suppose that the portent of our world’s end coming through a karaoke mangling of “All By Myself,” and suit/tie demons bent on bringing it about through math (I knew it was evil!) are just a couple of the things to expect when The Host of Caritas is your tour guide.
The standard A/B plot split with ‘Angel’s continuing darkness’ (trademark here) in one and the other three members of the old Fang Gang in another. Both are having some troubles, as usual. But this episode they also get to have some real fun. Both co-creators of the show tell the story here, and the dialogue is reflectively biting in that. Every line is razor-sharp and meaningful or, if not, quite entertaining. Virginia helping the gang out, Lorne telling the story of his concussion, Wesley playing detective and Lorne and Angel out to save the day; near every scene is sugary sweet with something fluffy and funny enough to keep me rolling. The actors are a particular comedic grace too, adding little touches to the characters they clearly know through and through (Lorne looking ass-piciously over the book, for example).
It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, I admit. However, that’s not to say it isn’t without standard merit. A strong point of this episode over the previous one is that the A/B stories are balanced on a far more even keel with both parties getting adequate screen-time to tell a story that has worth and develops them. And there is the story concerning Gene which I liked. He’s a simple palette of a character: nice, though not unflatteringly so; highly intelligent, but more than a little plain with a future ahead of him not too exciting. In this regard, one may call him Angel’s exact opposite. Except for one thing: his passion for a woman is about to destroy the world and he doesn’t even know it.
As hollow as Gene appears and as poor at relationships as he is, he’s a man of passion under his emotional mummy-bandages, just as Angel was before things went bad with Buffy in season two of her show; somewhat like how he is now. He wants to be good for his girlfriend, but feels as alone in his head as she does in his bed (zing!), consistently taking time out of his schedule to let such feelings out through every good ‘poor man’s’ favourite outlet: the karaoke machine. When Lorne reads him and sees no future past the time of his mishap on a Friday night at 10:30, it’s when Angel is brought into the investigation; the first real case he’s worked since “Untouched” [2×04].
It’s hard to believe it’s been that long for Angel; a testament to how far gone he is. As the episode begins, he’s merely annoyed by even the most peaceful and friendly presence. Working with Lorne slowly begins to unravel those emotional bandages as he’s forced into human (and green, singin’ demon) contact; his progression is one of a building fury. He’s irritated by Lorne and the mission, bored and sardonic when looking for Gene and comes to the realization that despite giving up everything to do what he believed would help the world, he no longer gives a single ounce of his care about it, or whether or not it ends. Angel’s anger is, if nothing, righteous. He’s suffered a great deal more than most have had to and for things, one could argue, that he didn’t even really do.
In “Not Fade Away” [5×22], Hamilton calls him unremarkable, saying that the fates stepped in and made him the way he was; he didn’t do it himself. Which would explain his anger here. In a very real moment, made perfect for the character by David Boreanaz, Angel lets out all the frustration you could ever speculate he might have. All he’s done is try to atone for horrible things that he did and it bought him a world of even greater pain, both in Sunnydale and L.A. He’s had to face up to murdering his parents, countless thousands, terrorizing Sunnydale, losing Doyle and most recently and even more directly: Darla. And all this because of a firm that has taken interest in him solely because he does good things.
Angel has the weight of worlds on his shoulders, and is understandably tired of people wondering why wears so much black and is pissed off a good deal of the time; he can’t take it anymore. All he has left is his mission to destroy Wolfram and Hart and ‘free’ Darla, a burden he believed his friends didn’t need to bear and even more importantly, the very last thing in his unlife he has left to exist for. By stopping the demons and helping Gene, whose anger and desperation at losing his chance to be there for the woman he cared about (parallels ho!) had taken him to a similar place, he’s lifted from that madness, if only briefly (it’s revisited in a big way in “Reprise” [2×15] ).
Much of the episode is lighter than those dark moments and implications would make it seem, though. On the B side of the plot, things aren’t quite as bad, but not particularly great either. The new office sucks, the lights and the phones don’t work and the clients certainly aren’t lining up. Dr. Plot Device stops by the office in the form of Virginia, who is used here for both continuity and to get the gang some work (as condescending as I may sound, it’s nice to see her again and to see Wesley and her on such good terms). Though in a lesser capacity than Angel, they’ve been slipping into despair due to the hardship of their new life despite how close they’ve become.
Virginia’s big break pays off however; Wesley’s sleuthing and Gunn’s axing garner them the praise, respect and (most importantly, of course) money of a wealthy client in a hysterical scene. They may have bottomed out, but by sticking to their friends and relying on human solidarity in their worst of situations they pulled through and lucked out, receiving not only a glorious payday but the promise of more clients to come (and a bitchin’ looking party, too). Before I finish, I’ll quickly touch on The Host, whom we are soon to know as Lorne and who makes his real first crack at being part of the Angel team here.
The slightly slightly sitcom feel in the ridiculousness and the sometimes over-sweet cadence of the dialogue made this episode feel just a bit ‘his.’ When talking about the constant change that is music he talks truthfully about life for us and life for a Joss Whedon character. Things change. You can’t always stop them. That doesn’t imply a hopeless world devoid of free will, it’s just a fact; existence wouldn’t be much at all if we didn’t change or grow (literally. See: evolution) and sometimes that means hanging out on the bottom half of the wheel for awhile.
The Host should know this well, seeing as how his job is to hear the pleas of the directionless and send them on their paths; the demons, the man at the karaoke dive, Gene and Angel are all set straight here by his clear thinking and good will, the latter two most importantly. That kind of happiness isn’t always abound in the Whedonverse (one would call it rare at best), but every now and again it pokes its head out, if only for a moment or two and under a dark cloud.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The continuity link with “Guise Will Be Guise” [2×06] concerning Ramone and the fantastic seabreeze.
+ The Host’s ‘vision concussion.’
+ Gene’s general likeability even in spite of his bland persona and hilariously melancholy karaoke manglings.
+ The double gag about the ‘new school mascot’ and Angel getting jumped by ‘it.’
+ Wesley’s real life game of ‘Clue’ with the wealthy family.
+ The transitions from comedy to intensity; Angel’s honest and desperate outburst in the car was genuinely felt and well timed.
* Angel doesn’t care whether or not the world ends, seems to care about very little and is left, in his mind, with only one single purpose: Destroy Wolfram and Hart. In “Reprise” [2×15] Angel actualizes this and goes on a fully intentional suicide mission to try and finish them once and for all.