[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Greenwalt | Director: Turi Meyer | Aired: 11/05/2001]
“Offspring” is an hour of television that mirrors its theme of duality by being two things at once. On one hand, it is a sober human drama in the tradition of the Whedonverse, mixing its characters into some difficult situations with no easy moral resolutions to be seen. On the other, it’s a mystical “what the hell?” and embraces the fantastical side of the show; this is the episode that kicks off S3’s main arc both in terms of plot and theme and does so with forebodings and promises of big uglies about to rear their heads. The bother is that neither half of the episode works exceptionally well. It’s all good, as good episodes go, but it’s not much more. A far cry from last season’s arc-starter “Dear Boy” [2×05], this episode shares an unfortunate characteristic with all of S3 as a whole: It’s just not enough.
I mentioned in my first review of the season (“Heartthrob” [3×01]) that one of S3’s major flaws was that it lost something from S2. While it definitely improved in its ability to deliver effective, hearbreaking drama, it sacrificed a lot of its intelligence along the way. With a few exceptions (“That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03], “Lullaby” [3×09], “Benediction” [3×21]), Angel’s third season got deeper in focus on the character development and mythology but put its social commentaries bluntly up front. There’s not as much effort in blending intelligent messages in with the stories. They stick out, if they’re there at all. And with “Offspring” and the launch of the main arc, the story begins hanging on the importance of the mystical aspect which tries to pass itself off for vast and intimidating, when really it’s little more than hyped.
But the characters acting afraid and speaking in humbled tones about certain “forthcoming events” feels disingenuous. The writers are telling us to ‘beware’ more than they’re showing us why we should. It’s a blunt, intrusive narrative form in place of S2’s subtle, complex style and I’m not a fan of it. We have on the one hand: Darla, pregnant with an ensouled, human child. And on the other, we have Holtz, brought back by the demon Sahjahn to hunt Angelus. Both are interesting events with dire implications. But much of what we get here are mere implications; talking about how big the events are and how bad things could get, with character elements sprinkled inbetween. As I said: It’s not enough.
At least the character events are worthy enough. The episode is about the dualities of heroes and villains. We get a lot of classic role reversal: Holtz, a human man who hunts the vampires that murdered his family, is cast as the villain while Angel, the vampire with a horrific past is our hero. Darla, despite still being a soulless monster who slaughters innocents even before the intro rolls, is painted as a helpless victim driven uncontrollably to her terrible hunger. No one is innocent, and everyone has been hurt. Holtz has had his family destroyed, Darla has been ‘infected’ (in her mind at least) and now Angel will have to deal with having caused all of it. But what does it mean?
Well, it’s how we deal with it. Holtz tragically goes from noble to vengeful. And Angel has gone from a monster to a good man, attempting to deal with his mistakes. The age old question of whether or not Angel is really responsible for the crimes of Angelus stretches back to “The Prodigal” [1×15] in which we found out that Liam was made Angelus by Darla because of his drunken, stupid lifestyle. This then led Angel to feel responsible for the crimes of Angelus, for his ignorance led him to a far worse fate than he could’ve ever imagined. The punishment isn’t really proportionate to the offence, but some responsibility must still be assumed. Just as Liam could scarcely have imagined what following Darla entailed, Angel couldn’t possibly have expected this.
But what’s painted as the worst part is that Angel lied about it not only to his friends but to himself; a consequence he could never have thought he’d have to deal with. So why bother fessing up to sleeping with Darla, right? But by so doing he shirked his responsibility in the whole affair, one that could’ve been even more disastrous (much like the situation in which he became a vampire), and retroactively hurt the new bond that he’d built with his friends since rejoining them in “Epiphany” [2×16]. The worry, humiliation and panic of the situation is a lesson in humbleness and honesty that Angel won’t soon forget. With Holtz rising, that message is only going to get louder.
As for Darla, who I don’t think is as blameless in this as she feels she is, she’s still in a pretty poor situation. Like last season, the writers do a convincing job of making her plights sympathetic even as she’s ravaging soullessly. Julie Benz sells her desperation well, and given what we know of Darla and her need to be in power, a pregnancy is a much a humiliating debilitation to her as it as something of worry for Angel. The fact that it is a human child, and indeed has a soul, is a good twist and is played out in the best scene of the episode; one that saves it from being an ‘all setup, no payoff’ deal.
One other flaw to note, one that exists in the character ‘part’ of the episode is in Cordelia, who takes her sympathy for Darla to too much of an extreme. I believe her concern, her feeling of betrayal over Angel’s lie, but I don’t for one moment believe that she would be as easy on Darla as she is after everything she put them and Angel through in S2. It’s good she saw the light, but it was too little too late. It’s an unusually glaring character blunder for the series and hurts the episode overall. Not only is it out of character, but it lessens our sympathies for her betrayed sensitivities because, honestly, she’s just downright annoying at some points.
But in spite of all this, the show works. Holtz doesn’t prove to be the series’ most compelling character, but he’s definitely an effective villain and he’s been built up well enough by this point that the image of his return at the end is a good, scary portent. I also liked Fred’s little speech about telling destiny to take a hike; very fitting for the show. Even if we’re determined by a higher plan or prior causal forces imposed upon us by the environments that influence us, putting faith in our ability to choose is the only thing that can motivate us to meaningful action. It’s a nice, bold statement for the previously meek Fred to be making now.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordy actually hurting Angel.
+ Wesley being lamely stealthy and Gunn being surprisingly practical. Who knew he could juggle?
+ The “I love you” fest.
+ Fred being naively nice to Darla.
+ Lorne’s reaction to Darla’s “surprise.”
+ Julie Benz as Darla. Wonderful performance as always.
+ Everyone telling Fred to can it.
– Cordelia being so protective of Darla. I don’t buy this at all.
* The themes of duality and responsibility will be touched upon frequently throughout the season. The nobility/evil of both Angel and Holtz is a major moral subject, and how responsible Angel truly is for his past is dealt with directly.