[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Jeffrey Bell | Director: Skip Schoolnik | Aired: 11/12/2001]
“Quickening” is another episode like “Offspring” [3×07] in that it works, but not exceptionally well. The key difference is that this episode is neither a start nor a finish. Like “Through the Looking Glass” [2×21] it’s neither here nor there; it’s a rolling stone, meant to progress the plot and character developments of the previous episode, elaborate on what we already know, up the stakes and leave us in anticipation of even more. The problem is, like I said, it doesn’t do any of that to any really great degree. In fact, “Quickening” isn’t a particularly watch-able hour; I want to score it lower. Yet, upon examination it has considerable value. It’s important setup, even if it’s not satisfying.
The problem with the episode is that it’s just not very interesting. The scenes fail to build any dramatic momentum, buried in endless expositional dialogue about the importance of prophecies, the forthcoming of huge events and the terror of the unknown. Only it’s not terrifying. This is intrusive narration at its worst in the series’ history, with the writers telling us to be scared rather than showing us why we should be. No doubt Holtz is someone to be concerned about, but even he seems too caught up in the show’s all-setup scheme to be anything to worry about until the episode actually puts him into the mix. The cliffhanger is the only satisfying bit of the show.
In all of this we get a reflection of the biggest problem with S3’s arc: It tries to generate suspense on SUSPENSE! alone, without giving us genuine reasons to be afraid. Yes, a vampire birth is odd and the W&H types all over the world clamouring over it adds something interesting to the mix, but this is nothing compared to something as terrifying as Lindsey’s resolve or Darla’s desire for power. And that’s the clinch: Motivation. Holtz’s family was murdered by Angelus and Darla and he wants revenge. Fine. But at this point we have no idea who Sahjahn is or why he’s doing what he’s doing (and when we do find out MUCH too late in “Forgiving” [3×17], it’s kind of disappointing).
Linwood Murrow is an uninteresting replacement for Holland Manners. He’s barely two dimensional; obsessed with a legacy and being a businessman first. John Rubenstein hams it up as Murrow and adds some menace that isn’t in the writing, but the character isn’t anyone to fear. Manners was a company man through and through, while Murrow is a guy who’s more interested in shrewdly covering his ### than anything; no threat to the characters. Except Lilah, maybe, who’s quickly coming into her own and is definitely someone to watch. Linwood’s a fitting new face for Wolfram and Hart, an organization that once destroyed Angel’s will to live but now seems incompetent and unwieldy. The gaggle of paranormal professionals and the scheming assistant were just another incarnation of the intrusive narration.
And all of the groups interested in the baby coming out of the woodwork with absolutely no foreshadowing are played to such a ridiculous degree that it’s laughable. Such problems end up feeling like a literal gag on what could’ve been a better episode, because the character moments focusing on Angel and Holtz work. This is where we are introduced to the theme of family in this season, as Angel learns that his child is indeed human. The moment made me think back to some of Angel’s hardest times dealing with his distance from humanity in “The Prodigal” [1×15] and “War Zone” [1×20] where he depressingly lamented the emptiness of his life, one incapable of making a real life or family.
Now he has a chance. Mind you it’s with his three times killed, once resurrected ex-girlfriend who he never really love loved anyway, but it’s a family. It’s a wonderful reward for Angel who seems elated at the fact; after all he’s suffered and gone through and how human he’s become, he has, through divine fate, a chance to have what is definitively a rite of human passage. It’s interesting seeing these humble beginnings knowing what problems lie ahead, and what baby Connor’s true role in the Tro-Clon will be. It is one that is ultimately positive, as he brings about Jasmine to save the world, but it’s a road fraught with pain.
That’s a humbling sentiment when just appreciating the here and now, for here and now Angel finally feels as though he has a future beyond mystical immortality. This is in direct contrast to Holtz, who can feel only the past. He quickly tires about learning new things in the world and agrees with Sahjahn’s statement that the world is the same that it always has been. For him it is. Evil still exists and people are still torn apart by savage monsters like Angelus and Darla. For Holtz, this is all that matters. Both Angel and Holtz are people who have savagely been torn from humanity for very different reasons and have been left with nothing, and now have opposite agendas because of it.
Toying with their fates is Sahjahn, who is playing his part in the grand Tro-Clon prophecy. Having read the Nyazian scrolls, he knows that one day baby Connor will grow to kill him, by whatever circumstance, something that actually happens in “Origin” [5×18]. It’s doubtful he knows the true extent of the purpose of the prophecy, but what he knows he believes. Sahjahn is, unfortunately, a simple villain. Charmingly played by actor Jack Conley, but still simple. But in retrospect of the series, I find him fascinating to study: an immortal being obsessed with time and events of the future; someone who can literally change the path of destiny and yet feels its grip to be inescapable.
For a demon like Sahjhan, fate is likely not some divine thing, but a collusion of events motivated by prior causal forces: the impact of the world on people which builds their experiences and moves them irrevocably to make the choices they do. If we are such that we cannot choose other than how we would choose when confronted with a situation because of what informs our decision making faculties, then all that is required to master human destiny and, in a sense, play God, is an understanding and apt manipulation of the people you require moved into place. This is what Sahjahn is doing. In fact, it’s the very kind of destiny that Skip says has moved everyone into place in “Inside Out” [4×17].
But that consideration is some ways off, even in this season’s story line. However, you can see why I still may give points to this episode, even if it is not entirely, say, enjoyable. An episode of setup is sometimes necessary, and “Quickening” just happens to be a disappointment in that it doesn’t fulfill anything but that thematic necessity. At least with the next episode, “Lullaby” [3×09], we get a very worthy payoff. So, not a total waste, right?
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Gunn’s complete willingness to try shooting Darla.
+ The vamp cult easily disposing of the sword guy.
+ Darla’s ever-changing allegiance to the vamp cult.
+ The re-appearance of the company psychics from “Blind Date” [1×21]. Nice callback.
– Linwood. Yuck.
– Dr. Fetvanovich. Bigger Yuck.
– Sahjahn can’t touch anything but can knock on doors and carry clothes? Continuity error!
* Angel looks to the future while Holtz is stuck in the past. In the season arc to come, both of these men bank their passions purely on these very human considerations, culminating in the biggest tragedy of the series in “Sleep Tight” [3×16].