[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: Fred Keller | Aired: 04/17/2001]
“Disharmony” is, in the style of its title character, light, funny, a little ridiculous and completely tone deaf. At least Disharmony is an appropriate name. When looking at an episode like this you have to ask yourself if it really works as something more than a standalone because, like episodes such as “Parting Gifts” [1×10] or “Redefinition” [2×11] before it, it has a responsibility to the events that transpired in the previous episodes. In this episode’s case, we have incredibly heavy fore bearers in “Reprise” [2×15] and “Epiphany” [2×16], the consequences of which need to be addressed in the episode following them, with new plot or character pieces also moved forward. While what we have here is entertaining and capable enough, it doesn’t feel quite like the right episode to follow such a heavy conclusion to the main arc.
It does have a lot of fun with its characters, though. There were a lot of little things I enjoyed here, little things like Gunn waving ‘hey sexy’ at Harmony and then getting stake-happy right after he figures out what she is. Easily my favourites are parts of the first act where we watch the gang settle back into the Hyperion Hotel. It’s a mark of a truly superior series when just watching these little moments gives you enjoyment; it’s felt like forever for the characters since they’ve been there, and they’ve been kept away just long enough by the story for us to feel like it too. The story’s made us earn that good feeling, and that’s not an easy thing to do well.
As I mentioned, one of the main hampers of this episode is its light tone. It didn’t necessarily need to be a massive plot collision or dramafest – we’ve had those already – but I don’t quite feel that a completely light, almost entirely comedic episode was the way to go following the main arc. A more somber story about making Angel earn back the trust of his friends would’ve fit better and could’ve been to effects only hinted at in the great scene where Cordelia outright tells him that they’re no longer friends, much to his sadness. Another issue to deal with is Angel’s behaviour itself, which I think breaches the out of character realm for the first time in a good while.
The main question to ask in regards to it is: Would he really let Harmony live? One can argue that, given his apologetic state, he might, but I don’t believe he could. Vampires, even of the cutest, cuddliest (and I admit, hottest, damn!) kind are still killers down to the core and he of all people knows this. The mercy Angel gives to Harmony out of his desire to appease Cordelia feels artificially generated purely for the purpose of the story. Perhaps the writers weren’t ready to make Cordy a killer, or maybe it’s like Spike in Season Two of Buffy: she survived because fans liked her and the writers got a kick out of using her
Harmony shows up again in Season Five of this show, and she’s worth every laugh. But unlike that feeling I described, her freedom feels more like a contrivance than an earned thing; I can’t for a minute believe that Angel would let her go. But, he is in sort of an odd place this entire episode. For the first time in many episodes, he’s not the central character motivating the story lines. He’s made his grand apology, but now he has to prove he’s worthy of forgiveness, and that means dealing with what his promise entailed: He now works for a company that has his name in it, and answers to Wesley.
These are facts not at all lost on his co-workers, who delight in making him suffer a bit. Xander would kill to see it: Angel relegated to coffee and donut duty, sitting at a tidy secretary’s desk. It’s the fuzzy-side-of-the-force punishment for himl; Wesley clearly holds Angel’s noble reforms in high esteem, and is just getting in good natured ribbing, which is a good sign. But not all’s well. We know Gunn will tolerate him, though not forgive him, so easily, still unable to reconcile working with a vampire whom he has now seen do terrible things and is still wary of. It’s a fact he doesn’t even start to deal with until “That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03].
And that’s not even the focus of this episode. The fractured bond between the two oldest and closest Sunnydale alum, Cordy and Angel, is the subject; their development entwined here. Near the end of “Epiphany” [2×16] it’s very telling when she tells him she’s not alright, that she has hurt feelings. All that Angel has done has been very hard on her in particular. Just as her visions started to become more painful, she was abandoned by the person she was given them to guide and forced to live a tougher life, all due to Angel’s obsession, as she perceived it. The sharpest sting of it being the abandonment itself; a painful insult by someone she valued as a close friend and heroic champion.
In the episode’s best scene, she makes it very clear to him that a little apology is not about to make that up. The wounds are too deep to be healed by anything but time, which she finds herself wishing she could turn back. This is where Harmony comes in. She represents a simpler time, when terrible images of the dead and dying didn’t rack her brain and the plight of the many helpless weren’t her responsibility; a time when she had friends who weren’t demons or demon killers (well, most of em). A time when the world answered to her. Cordelia’s reconnection to that through Harmony is so strong, that even when betrayed, she can’t be forced to kill someone who seems so awfully like her.
Little things like boys crushing on her and singing bad songs and frying the guts of Xander Harris reconnect her to the feelings of power and presence she had, which she now feels without in a world where champions betray her. However, Harmony’s existence as she is makes a few things very clear for her. Becoming a vampire limited her in many of the ways it limited Angel in S1: she can’t grow, she can’t change, and without a soul or a purpose or mission she can’t even begin to comprehend those things. She’s a reflection of Cordelia’s High School self, but almost a tragic figure, trapped in that state. And after her ‘suffocating’ relationship with Spike, she feels a need to find herself more than ever.
But, always the poular-clique, weak willed individual in general, she’s easy prey for the vampire cult who win her over by sounding good and giving her a place of acceptance, something Angel, Wesley and Gunn won’t give her. Cordy tried, but that doesn’t matter. Harmony can’t understand loyalty or empathy (abstract concepts), only childlike, instinct-driven needs: Her demonic blood hunger and her human need for social acceptance, two things a creature such as her can only find with other vampires. She’s not unlike a child, who can take comfort in friends only so far as they entertain her and abandons them as soon as the next best thing comes along. Can one blame her too much? She was made that way before she had time to shed her immature skin like Cordy did.
Angel allowing Harmony to walk I may not believe, but Cordelia I do. Her lack of a soul and her lack of a chance to grow have severely limited her; what would you do if you couldn’t grasp emotion or selflessness? Despite longing for the worship she once had, Cordelia remembers the pitfalls of that life too, and this empathy for Harmony leads to her mercy, and her affirmation of the value of her current life. However crappy it may be, she helps the helpless and is damn good at it. What she does has a purpose worth more than any ever get a chance to be, and that’s a good thing.
Once a ditz, but given the chance Harm wasn’t to grow and learn, she’s become an extraordinary person who can do extraordinary things, such as forgive. Angel’s guilt leads to the ultimate make-up gift: a pile of new, expensive clothes for Cordy. That he has the wisdom to see that the younger woman in her is the person that needs comforting (and that he has great taste!) makes the gesture far more than just material and she knows it. It’ll still take some time, but the wounds start to heal here. The final scene where they’re jumping around together like giddy kids on Christmas day is as heartwarming as it is hilarious; well earned, too. It’s been too long since anyone’s had that big a smile on this show.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Wesley’s speech as he takes over the company. Torture for Angel.
+ Cordy’s ruminations on air pockets.
+ The gay confusion. Loved Willow’s appearance: “..great big Lesbo! ….Oh, yeah? Well, good for you!”
+ Angel and Wesley’s completely wasted heroic charge.
+ The Host commenting on the irony of “Harmony’s” name.
+ The vampire pyramid-scheme cult. Good to know demons are just as pathetic and desperately in need of social grouping as we are.
* Cordelia is racked by her visions more and more. In “Birthday” [3×11] we discover that since about the time of “Redefinition” [2×11] she’s been popping pills to control the pain and lying about the seriousness of her burden.