Angel 3×04: Carpe Noctem

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Scott Murphy | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 10/15/2001]

“Carpe Noctem” is another episode with some fun qualities but not a great deal to talk about. Like many standalones it succeeds where it does because of the considerable talents of the main cast, who really know how to live their characters in each of their own subtle, loving ways. They channel the script as best they can to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. And while that doesn’t necessarily redeem sub-par writing, it makes the episode watch-able and even enjoyable. For its shallowness, “Carpe Noctem” (Latin for “seize the night”) is one thing: a whole lot of fun. But before we can get to that there are some things we need to clear up.

For its charms it’s ultimately forgettable and unimportant. It doesn’t commit the worst sin that a story can – being boring – but it’s not exceptional material by any stretch of the imagination. The first problem is its attempt at character development. There is none. Not in the way there was no character development in “Belonging” [2×19] where theme and re-establishment was masked as development, but in the way that when we arrive at the end of the episode almost nothing of impact has transpired. It’s not for a lack of trying; the plot’s intentions were to have the key characters learn a thing or two from the body switch, especially Angel.

Unfortunately, all we learn is what we already knew. Angel’s newfound security in his friends and his re-defined team has been clear since the start of the season. Hell, it got even clearer just last episode in “That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03] where Gunn finally came to an understanding with him over the fact that he’s a vampire. So an entire episode put together for the point of showing the strong bonds of the Angel Investigations team may be sweet to watch, but is little more than a retread of previous (and better told) stories. Like many S3 episodes it takes us through an hour well enough, but feels shallow compared to the average episode of any other season of Angel; S3 is its shallowest.

The admittedly inferior Battlestar Galactica (still the best show on TV right now (2007) and sometimes truly great) always has social importance on its mind, even when the character insight or story isn’t all that great. It’s never shallow or dumb. Unfortunately, most of the messages this season of Angel are simple, undercooked moral dilemmas. So when the characterization isn’t all that good, there’s not much left. The character of Marcus Roscoe is certainly a worthwhile idea as a personification of the anti-Angel; unburdened by context, a past, consequence or a destiny or any kind of future, he’s able to embrace what he sees as the best parts of Angel’s existence. You might say he’s freer.

Marcus, a human on death’s door, finds a body that will sustain his youth and strength forever. Angel, a vampire with an eternal soul and a destiny, just wants to be normal, get old, find love and die like any regular human. They’re perfect opposites, men of different eras in every way (even down to how they treat women), and the fine contrast between them could’ve led to some complex insight. But instead we just get joke upon joke. Marcus ends up being a one note rear-end-in-a-hat of a man whose desperate plight to survive and enjoy life is understandable, but made entirely unsympathetic by his shallowness and baleful contempt for human intimacy. The message that having true friends is what makes life enjoyable is blunt, pointless, and already well understood by the characters.

With all that said, I must return to my earlier comments and re-iterate that while sacrificing intelligence for entertainment is never a virtue, it’s done to worthwhile effect here. It’s not deep, complex or even satirical comedy; situational, at best. But the actors have such fun with their awkward situations, sharp one-liners and little character moments that the flaws may not even register until examination begs them to. You may not notice a particular depth to anything, but you’ll definitely be entertained. I especially enjoyed David Boreanaz hamming it up as Marcus who’s exceedingly smooth with women and gets giddy over his super powers. And the scene where Marcus mistakes tea-toting Wesley for Fred is resoundingly successful in the ring of awkward comedy.

Also redeeming is that there is a spark of relevance buried under the mindless fun. Fred’s starting to recognize her affinity for Angel as a schoolgirl’s crush, strengthened by the fact that he saved her life. She’s mistaken Angel’s friendliness and good-guy nature for a romantic interest. Because of her need to latch on to something wondrous and fantasy-like after having suffered in Pylea, she’s desperate to hold on to this idea. Starting to overcome this is a good first step for her, and takes us nicely in to the first Fred-centric episode, which comes next (“Fredless” [3×05]). For its irrelevance otherwise, the episode is hardly a total loss.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Cordy trying to flirt and succeeding.
+ The umpteen-millionth resurgence of the ‘Angel-is-gay’ joke. For something so one-note it manages to be funny every time.
+ Wes’ inconveniently timed appearance with a pot of tea.
+ Marcus mistaking Gunn for a delivery boy.
+ Marcus getting ‘intimate’ with Lilah and how shamelessly willing she is to go there.

– The ease with which Marcus gets away with pretending to be Angel. Shouldn’t somebody notice the odd behaviour?
– Angel’s line to Marcus about having a weak heart because ‘he never uses it.’ Oddly prosaic for this show.


* Fred’s desire to be with Angel shows how strongly she still needs to cling to a fantasy of something fairy-tale like and wonderful following her traumatic experiences in Pylea. In “Fredless” [3×05], this is directly addressed when her parents come to L.A. to find her.



19 thoughts on “Angel 3×04: Carpe Noctem”

  1. [Note: fryrish posted this comment on March 14, 2007.]

    I’ll be interested to see your reviews of some of the weaker episodes of this season, because I consider this to be just about the worst episode of either show. Actually scratch that, forgot about Double or Nothing.

    The biggest thing that lets down season three for me is that, while the main arc is good, it contains some of the dullest standalones in the Whedonverse.


  2. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on March 14, 2007.]

    There are only a couple of painfully bad episodes in S3 in my opinion. S4 has the worst of the series (“The House Always Wins”). My main issue with S3 is its average quality. It’s not often terrible, but it’s very rarely above ‘pretty good.’


  3. [Note: Dingdongalistic posted this comment on July 24, 2007.]

    “Actually scratch that, forgot about Double or Nothing.”

    Forget about Double or Nothing?! Seriously, lame this may be, but DoN it ain’t. I never want to see an episode of any show that’s as bad as Double or Nothing. That episode is almost as bad as Army of Ghosts.Aris Katsaris


  4. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on March 5, 2008.]

    Your review perfectly says what one of my complaints is: there is no character development. Still, there´s much to enjoy here. Not bad but the episode is just average.


  5. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on January 30, 2010.]

    Angel wearing leather pants 🙂 Yes, he doesn’t try hard to dispell those rumours.

    As a question, who would even think of doing what Marcus could do if you could once you got older? I would really have to think about it if I made it to old age.


  6. [Note: JammyJu posted this comment on March 27, 2010.]

    Think maybe you guys are a tad harsh on this episode.

    Watched it for the second time yesterday, and I found the comedy elements to be well and trully hilarious.

    David is a fantastic actor here!

    While we may not get any significant development here for any of the characters, it’s an enjoyable ‘lite’ episode, and serves as a refreshing reminder of the witty writing behind the show, but also its ability to just take a seat back from the bleaker moments which are on its way.


  7. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on August 25, 2010.]

    This episode is hilarious. Not as good as the last two, but way better than a C. B/B+ range in my opinion. The Angel/Wesley scene alone makes this a worthwhile episode in my book.


  8. [Note: Xavier posted this comment on May 22, 2012.]

    Though I agree that the episode doesn’t give much growth to the series as whole, the episode is still pretty damn funny!

    Only Angel can pull off those black, leather pants. Yummm. :]


  9. [Note: Waverley posted this comment on October 24, 2012.]

    Watched this last night and I must say, I disagree with the main criticism of the review – that there is no character development. I’d say there are a fair few important, if subtley played moments.First of all, we have Angel wanting to go have fun at the movies while everyone else bar Fred wants to stay at home and be serious. As Angel himself notes, this is something of a watershed moment amd a complete turnaround from how the characters acted in the past. It hints at how Angel has grown and how Cordelia (visions), Wesley (leadership) and Gunn ( reaffirming the choice he made in the previous episode) are taking their responsibilities more seriously.With Fred, we see her put herself out there beause of her feelings for Angel and by the end of the episode she’s accepted that it’s not going to happen. Her attachment to Angel was one of the things keeping her from forming relationships with others so and her beginning to move past this is what enables her to go out into the world.On the bad guy side, we have the developing rivalry between Lilah and Gavin. Lilah goes so far as to help Angel without expecting anything in return – even going to his office – just to screw Gavin over. Her daliance of the desk with the man she thought was Angel also gave us an insight into the way she views Angel, with a sexual attraction for her to their rivarly (no doubt an unhealthy one), and that gives us some insight into her character.I don’t think every episode has to be choc full of character development to be good but I’d say this one is both good fun and has enough development to round out the characters a little more by its end than when we started.


  10. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on January 4, 2013.]

    I think we should have seen the ending with Marcus’ heart attack. He was told before (as Angel) that he might not survive another one and the guy was clearly evil as he had killed a few men by taking their bodies so I wish we got closure on whether he got what he deserved or not.

    David looks like he had some real fun with this episode.

    Marcus: “Romance with Fred? So I’m a…….. obviously.” Hilarious!


  11. [Note: FlyingPenguin posted this comment on April 10, 2015.]

    What do people think: Did Lilah respond to “Angel”‘s advance (albeit after a moment’s wary hesitation) because she had always been secretly attracted to him, or because she saw his sudden interest as an opening to be exploited? In other words, is she hoping to use his apparent interest as a source of power and tool of manipulation later?


  12. [Note: Pathbeyondthedark posted this comment on April 10, 2015.]

    She’s always been one to wear her emotions on her face, no matter how much she attempts to smile and hide it. Every time Angel or some other situation scared her she couldn’t keep that facade going. It’s why she was the perfect folly for Lindsey in season 2, who was much calmer and had a definite game face, albeit being very truthful most of the time despite this. She looked lustful there just before kissing him. Therefore, based on her character, she did want him in some way.

    Let’s also not forget that Lilah loves power. She loves “nice” things and being able to have anything she wants. Angel is a powerful figure. Put two and two together. She may hate him at his core, but his power and importance still can turn her on if she allows them to.

    The only thing she values more then that is her life. She’ll swallow her pride and anything else to save it.


  13. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on August 19, 2016.]

    Something really fascinating in hindsight: when Marcus-as-Angel tries to kill Angel-as-Marcus at the nursing home, he poses as his son and calls him “dad.”

    Foreshadowing for the Oedipal situation Angel gets in re: Connor?


  14. [Note: TheDoThatGirl posted this comment on August 29, 2016.]

    Holy crap, I never noticed that! 😀 Now, I have to rewatch the series and se if I can find any other forshadowing of Conner. I think one would be Trevor Lockley asking Angel if he has kids in season one’s The Prodigal. Another, as I am now convinced, is Drusilla rambling about the ‘Little worm won’t dance if he’s told to,” which I think is a premonition of Conner’s conception now that Darla had been revamped.


  15. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on August 29, 2016.]

    Yeah, now that I think about it an awful lot of these early S3 episodes are about dysfunctional/murderous family in some way. The demons in “Fredless.” The Blim family in “Billy.” Arguably the Fang Gang in “That Vision Thing,” definitely Gunn’s crew in “That Old Gang Of Mine.”

    I mean, if only these episodes were good on their own merits…


  16. [Note: Flamepillar112 posted this comment on August 29, 2016.]

    See, That vision Thing is good. So is Billy, and Fredless is decent. I already wrote as to why I disagree with your interpretation of “That Old Gang of Mine”.


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