[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.