Angel 3×06: Billy

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 10/29/2001]

“Billy” is another episode like the late-into-S2 standalones such as “Disharmony” [2×17] and “Dead End” [2×18] in its solid characterization and theme but lack of excellence or striking originality. Not that any of those things are always necessary to enjoy an episode, but they do help, don’t they? What we have is by the numbers conflict, drama, and resolution with just enough of all of it as well as some lasting character impact to make the whole thing worthwhile. The fact that it’s co-written by Tim Minear (with Jeffrey Bell in tow) also helps, as we get a dash of darkness to the themes and situations throughout the show.

We continue with the season-spanning theme of responsibility, which gets blended in with the main theme of feminine strength. We also get resolutions to what began in “That Vision Thing” [3×02], when Billy Blim was freed from a hell dimension by Angel in order to save Cordelia from Wolfram and Hart. As we begin, Angel is training Cordy to fight and defend herself by herself. A lot of times we’ve seen her put in rough spots, and having accepted her mission and place at Angel Investigations at long last, it’s no surprise she’d want to learn some skills. Angel, her closest emotional confidant and so-often the hero guy, trains her only in avoidance rather than counter-attack, because ‘he’ll always be there to save her.’

It’s an idea that’s sweet in theory but condescending in practice, a point which Cordy articulates right away. Angel can’t always be around to save her (remember “Guise Will Be Guise” [2×06] when a fake Angel barely did the trick?), and the suggestion that she shouldn’t know how to save herself isn’t a good one. Even though he’s moved away from the ‘champion’ phase of his life, Angel still feels responsible to look after those who he cares about. Since Cordy often suffers under the visions and was very recently attacked by that very channel, his need to look out for her is especially strong. But there’s something to be said for one’s independence, self-control and power, which is what Cordelia’s speech to Lilah is about.

Throughout the episode, we see examples of men patronizing or belittling women both intentionally and unintentionally, from Angel’s protective treatment of Cordelia to Billy’s psychotic treatment of everyone. You have the man on the street that makes a snide comment about yappy women, Wesley who literally tries to kill Fred because of his own insecurities (obviously accentuated) and Gunn who tries but fails in protecting her. In the end, it is the victimized women themselves who are more inventive, quick-witted and strong when it comes to punch time than their affected male counterparts. The message isn’t as simple as ‘women are plainly smart and perfect and men are piggish and sexist,’ however.

It’s more about strengths and being secure in them. Wesley feels insecure around Fred, and Angel’s insecure about Cordelia’s safety. Billy feels that the world is impious, even greedy, and can’t do anything about it, so he takes pleasure in sadistically contributing to societal entropy by both exposing weakness and causing pain. What gives the women the upper hand in this episode is that they all come to a place where they possess confidence in themselves and their ability to live independently as human people. To have that ripped away is a terrible violation to suffer for any person, especially when it’s taken for so petty a reason as gender. Cordy is the avatar of the struggle against such violations, having suffered more than any woman on the show.

She was made powerless by Wolfram and Hart in “That Vision Thing” [3×02], a chain of events that led to Billy getting freed in the first place, something for which she feels responsible. Her helplessness and her insecurity – a damsel-in-distress complex – actually created the problem. The solution for her can only lie only in always being secure in her strength. But when she confronts Billy, he makes one decent point. Comedian George Carlin suggested that the problem with modern feminism is that there is no real concern about issues, only protecting reproductive rights and pocketbooks. Billy’s comment about mimicking the behaviour of men is in that vein. Cordelia’s transformation into a stronger being is no doubt for the better, but is it unequivocally positive?

Is modeling the violent behaviour of aggressive men really that feministic? She feels destined to be alone, and her attitude when it comes to her training is that that is what she needs to be prepared to be. Being confident in ones abilities is one thing, but putting stock into cold solidarity is not necessarily good, despite the fact that Cordelia is justified in feeling the way she does. The episode hints at greater complexity but fails to achieve it in ignoring this important ambiguity. We see it reflected in Lilah, who has taken feminist drive to the extreme and ended up cold, vicious and immoral. That we’re supposed to sympathize with her because ‘a man’ beat her when many would’ve likely cheered if anyone else had simply killed her is a weak play.

We love to hate Lilah, and at this point in the series would love to see her killed. But her beaten face evokes battered wife images and goes for a cheap emotional punch (forgive the terrible pun), rather than taking the bolder path in portraying the duality of independence. Fortunately, the B plot doesn’t skimp on such dark ideas. Despite a bit of bad dialogue, the sequence with Wesley hunting Fred and its ramifications is the best part of the show. Alexis Denisof portrays a psychotic side of Wesley that feels dead on and plausible, and Amy Acker as the terrified but ingenious Fred delivers. The writing contributes considerably as well, making the enraged Wes a genuine threat to beat.

But best of all it proposes some good ideas in its considerations of the psyche. Despite Fred’s protests that Wesley is a good man, he can’t deny that his psychotic explosion at her came from something that existed. It’s not as simple as the fact that he doesn’t want to kill Fred. He likes her a lot, in fact. But the truth is that he is terribly insecure and frustrated about his issues with women, and sees the potential of such bile actualized by the Billy effect; a terrifying revelation. Even if you don’t believe in a Jungian philosophy of certain tendencies and knowledge being innate in human beings, you have to wonder just what any person can be pushed to by their own fears.

Angel feared pulling his team down into the darkness with him, and that insecurity resulted in his harsh firing of them in “Reunion” [2×10]. For Wesley, the emerging frustration with his romantic life is important to his tragedy later on this season, as is his losing Fred to Gunn in “Waiting in the Wings” [3×13] and slipping into some bouts of ugly jealousy eases the decision to abandon his friends. Overall such character insights do make the episode worthwhile and engaging, if not particularly great. They don’t save it from its limitations either, though. None of them are really bad enough to rag on for a great period of time, but they do hinder it from being more than it could.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Cordy using cheerleader moves to fight.
+ Wesley’s intimate get-together for five.
+ Lilah’s apt comparisons of herself to Lindsey.
+ Cordelia and Lilah having girl talk between threats.
+ Wes’ use of the ‘you’ve already told her twice’ joke. It’s hard to mark it as a ‘positive’ but it’s just so odd and sick and tritely overdone a joke that it works here.


Foreshadowing

* Cordelia shows the signs of a more hardened, independent warrior here. This development strengthens all season as she becomes as a genuine champion and eventually ascends in “Tomorrow” [3×22].


[Score]

80/100

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25 thoughts on “Angel 3×06: Billy”

  1. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on March 6, 2008.]

    The parts concerning Wesley and Fred are really well-done and I actually feared for her.
    Great review, Ryan.

    Like

  2. [Note: bittens posted this comment on June 15, 2009.]

    As a horror movie geek, I absolutely loved that the entire B-plot was a homage to The Shining. That movie is so great.

    Alexis was just fabulous in this episode, and not only while playing psycho. I think this also had some of his best acting as regular Wesley. Especially at the end. “I’m so sorry…”

    Like

  3. [Note: Louise posted this comment on June 29, 2009.]

    I found this episode really difficult to watch, but I still can’t work out exactly why. But I have a pretty uncomfortable physical feeling having just finished it.

    To be honest I actually have no idea what I think of it.

    Like

  4. [Note: DrunkT posted this comment on September 30, 2009.]

    Then it’s a good episode Louise!!

    It made you feel… it made you react. It got to you.

    So… it’s a well crafted episode.

    By the way, nice “The Shining” homage.

    Like

  5. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on October 9, 2009.]

    At the very least it’s an emotional episode. Emotional affect isn’t always the goal of fiction, but I’d say if this ep didn’t make anyone feel a little bit sick then it would’ve been a total failure. So points for that.

    Like

  6. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on January 31, 2010.]

    Lilah all bruised and battered was great to see as she is a mean bitch, yet somehow, Angel was a little sorry for her. She nearly had Cordelia killed, yet she’s a woman so he feels sorry for her. Similar to the next episode with Cordelia and Darla – It makes no sense.

    Not a lot to like. Freds horror movie fall and backwards crawl, Billys sexist remarks about wearing pants. (Reminds me of the press against female polititians who wear pants) Cordelia trying to help Lilah even though she put Cordy through much more pain and suffering.

    The ending was good with Wesley really upset with what he had done to Fred.

    Like

  7. [Note: MordCordy posted this comment on September 27, 2011.]

    this is one of the most upsetting buffyverse/angelverse eps I have ever seen. Wesley was so scary, and I loved Cordelia and Angel training.

    Tim Minear is my fave writer for this show.

    Like

  8. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 2, 2011.]

    Quite ok episode.

    Didn’t like Cordy staying when Angel told her to leave at the airport though. She seemed to have a death wish there because if he really would have turned, all she would have left to do is die. And if not, well, he is Angel, he doesn’t need her help to fight that creep anyway.

    And I didn’t understand Wesleys fears at the end of the episode. Always thought he was a bright guy and here he seems to believe that his behaviour under that spell, which affected every man in exactly the same way no matter what kind of person he is, would reveal something about him. That’s just stupid.

    But maybe he didn’t think that and actually felt that he destroyed his chances to get involved with Fred, dunno. Whichever it is, it is far less deep and meaningful than what Ryan made out of it again. ^^

    Anyway, I guess I start to get into the show. Finally!

    All that meaningless drama bullshit about Darla and Angel and those onedimensional, cardboard villains at Wolfram&Hart were extremely boring for me.

    And I cringe every time someone insists that a tale about good and evil and how both is not just out there, but also inside of everyone of us (*yawn*), would be somewhat more deep and “adult” than what Buffy was about. I mean, everyone who still believes in the concepts of good and evil can’t really claim to be an adult anyway. *gg*

    Like

  9. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 6, 2011.]

    “Always thought he was a bright guy”

    Hehe, actually that’s not true. But there was a time I really thought that way and that was before I watched some of the episodes later this season.

    Like

  10. [Note: Xavier posted this comment on May 23, 2012.]

    I just LOVE how out of the four, now five, friends, Angel and Cordelia are the closest. Angel is so overprotective of her, and they really complement each other. It’s sad to know that Doyle wasn’t there to join them..

    Like

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

    This episode is a similar theme to ‘She’, although, this episode is handled much better. It can be seen as a little sexist to men even though violent men are usually violent to anyone not just women. Had Lindsey been attacked Angel would have mocked him and told him he doesn’t feel bad for him, which is exactly what he should have done to Lilah. Unfortunately, had he mocked Lilah he would have been seen as the bad guy by people uninformed about Lilah.

    “Oh, are we standing up now? Is that what we’re doing?” This line from Wes to Fred makes me laugh as much as the “we are beltless” line from ‘Storyteller’.

    Cordelia’s stand-off with Billy was a highlight as was Wesley and Fred in the last scene.

    Like

  12. [Note: Buffster posted this comment on March 28, 2013.]

    Liked the episode, but creeped me out a bit. Denisof is great in this episode, some of his best acting.

    Like

  13. [Note: Monica posted this comment on October 15, 2013.]

    I love this episode. It’s a total grade-A for me.

    I, for one, love the strong feminist theme that runs throughout, as well as its execution. I actually love the character of Billy, not as a person, obviously, but all he represents.

    Also, I love all the main characters actions in this episode, particularly Angel and Cordelia. I adore how the episode begins and ends with them training, and the emphasis this episode has on their beautiful friendship. Also, Cordelia’s scenes with Lilah and Billy are some of my favorite Cordelia moments in either series. Also, pretty cool to see her start going into combat.

    In addition, I feel like Fred was used perfectly in this episode, which, as many believe, is rare for her relatively underutilized character. Wesley’s budding crush on her was something I, at the time, found very interesting, and he and Cordy’s conversation about her is beyond adorable in regards to their friendship. Also, this was one of the few times I can remember where Fred’s unique talents were used, in this case her knack for building and planning things intelligently. Although he didn’t get much screentime, I was also very satisfied with Gunn’s scenes as well, specifically the ones with Fred.

    I can’t think of anything significant that I dislike about this episode, aside from the fact it’s not entirely special. Nonetheless, it’s one of my favorite season three episodes.

    Oh, and although I think that the fact that Lilah’s a woman did indeed cause the somewhat undeserved sympathy, I still love her in this episode.

    Like

  14. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on April 5, 2014.]

    I’ve got to say that for an episode with a strong feminist message, it’s disturbing that it claims Billy’s powers ‘activate a primal misogyny’ in people. The implication that sexism and hatred of women is something innate in males and not something created by society is quite damaging to my enjoyment of the episodes’ themes.

    Like

  15. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on April 6, 2014.]

    Lilah: “Not all people. Just men. He brings out a primordial misogyny in them. Turns them into killers.”

    Like

  16. [Note: Jahn posted this comment on August 5, 2014.]

    Yeah, this episode wasn’t feminist, it was misandrist (a line that only becomes increasingly blurred in modern society). There’s a difference. As such, I couldn’t enjoy it.

    I get why you may want to believe that this episode was about insecurities or some deeper meaning, but it wasn’t. It was someone’s agenda piece. It was gleeful male bashing that would have led to riots if the gender roles were reversed.

    Funny how no one sees the afflicted men as victims, their bodies and very souls invaded and violated, and their lives destroyed.

    Like

  17. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on August 5, 2014.]

    I think that’s an exaggeration. The episode mishandled it’s feminist themes, but I doubt it was intentionally misandric. It was written by Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell, after all – one of whom is one of the most respected horror sci-fi writers (a very male genre) and the other being largely responsible for the decidedly not feminist handling of Cordelia’s character in season four.

    Good point on the men Billy affects, although I think we are definitely meant to sympathize with Wesley at the end for what he was influenced into doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. [Note: ahm4ev posted this comment on April 8, 2015.]

    I didn’t think Lilah being so dreadfully beaten was a cheap emotional punch, I thought it was more to show us how far she is willing to go. And, y’know, to give her a reason to gun him down.

    I felt physically unsettled after watching this, and that’s a sign that it succeeded what it was trying to accomplish. Obviously material doesn’t need to make you uncomfortable to be good, nor should it be that way, but this episode’s goal was clearly to unsettle, so if it hadn’t done that, it would’ve been pretty much a failure.

    Like

  19. [Note: Pandorita posted this comment on April 10, 2016.]

    I agree entirely with you. This episode is not feminist in any way. Feminism has never proclaimed the idea that men are inherently and naturally misogynist, and that those impulses just need a little push to go to the surface. On the contrary, feminism sees misogyny as a cultural by-product of living in a patriarchal society. The idea that women are inferior to men in some way (call it weaker, less intelligent, less noble or whatever other way of belittling another human being you can think of), just like it happens with racism or xenophobia, are not innate but taught to men AND women in their very childhood by society as a whole. These teachings don’t produce the same effects on all people though (just as it happens with racist or xenophobic ideas). Some of us can resist them, some take them lightly, and others hold them tightly. And there’s always a bunch of disturbed individuals who use them to ignite their hate and go violent, murderous and such.

    Also, had this episode been feminist, it would have adressed what Jahn pointed out so well: men were victims too. Feminism when it’s well understood always points out that patriarchy hurts as all, not just women. In a patriarchal society where women are considered lesser and weaker, men are supposed to be always strong, always confident, never fearful, no feelings allowed, no weakness allowed. Always the hero in shining armor, the guardian and the provider, never allowed to fail, to cry, to get sick, to lose his job, to lose a fight, etc. Which is unrealistic, unhuman and unhealthy, and causes so many stress-related diseases in male population.

    So, I have to agree with Jahn and you about this episode not being feminist but actually being misandrist, with that horrible way to portray men as if they all had a beast inside them, and only them, which is unfair and untrue. I would have been okay with this if Billy’s power would have made awake the worst, more violent, psychotic impulses in ALL people, women included (because we all have some darkness inside of us on some level). But to point it out only at men, and focus their violence only at women, really makes a very misandrist statement that I can’t like or agree with at all.

    Although as you said, I don’t think this was intended either, just… mislead.

    I can’t really say that I liked this episode. I too felt physically unsettled after watching it and I’m not eager to re-watch it, but if its intent was to horrify us, it has certainly accomplished it. But all in all, I have to admit it was a good episode and the acting was superb, specially Alexis Denisof’s. It was bone-chillying and although it distressed me deeply to see beloved Wesley act like a psycho killer, I really felt that I had to stand up and applaud his performance (“Oh, are we standing up now? Is that what we’re doing?”)

    Anyway, I really hope next episode will be a light, comedic one. After all the darkness in this, I kinda need it.

    Like

  20. [Note: Lana posted this comment on August 14, 2016.]

    I agree with you completely, there. I’ve always loved their closeness. They’re best friends (and IMO so married, but that’s the shipper in me talking).

    Like

  21. [Note: Emily posted this comment on February 24, 2017.]

    Funny how no one sees the afflicted men as victims, their bodies and very souls invaded and violated, and their lives destroyed.

    I just watched this episode (again) and I completely disagree. The last scene with Fred and Wesley was focused on the damage HE suffered. She’s shaken the fear and pain off along with the apologies he tries to make. Yeah, Lilah says that Billy brings out a primal side of men, but that’s Lilah; she’s evil and cynical and believes the worst of people. That last scene frames it differently, from a much more reliable source: “It wasn’t something in you, Wesley” Fred says. “It was something that was done to you.”

    Like

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