Angel 3×09: Lullaby

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Tim Minear | Director: Tim Minear | Aired: 11/19/2001]

Now this is what I like. “Lullaby” is everything that embodies the best of S3, and is probably also the best episode of S3. When the competition from other seasons are “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22], “Reprise” [2×15] and”Not Fade Away” [5×22], it’s tough to compete, but this episode does (even if not quite to those heights). Unfortunate then that S3 never again sees such heights, and that its arc fails to deliver on the great promises made in this episode. Sahjahn’s true motives aren’t all that interesting, Holtz never develops much more complexity than he possesses here and the average standalone episode in between this episode and the arc enders “Sleep Tight” [3×16] and “Forgiving” [3×17] aren’t all that good. Perhaps “Lullaby” simply set the bar too high.

While it’s not as good as some of the other episodes I mentioned from other seasons, it has one thing that all of S3 has more of than any other season of Angel: raw, effective, visceral character drama. This is a genuinely moving hour of television on the same level as the heartbreaking “Sleep Tight” [3×16], but with all the thematic complexity, character intricacies and deep moral considerations that that episode lacked. Alongside Darla’s moving sacrifice and the haunting images of fire and rain in the alley outside Caritas, we further plumb the depth of the season’s major themes of personal responsibility and the question of free will. Writer/Director Tim Minear delivers once again. But has he ever given us reason to doubt him?

Well, no. This marks Minear’s fifth entry into the realm of 100-scored episodes, and going down the list of his credits is like reading a fan favourite list: “Sense and Sensitivity” [1×06], “Hero” [1×09], “Somnambulist” [1×11], “The Prodigal” [1×15], “Sanctuary” [1×19], “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” [2×02], “Darla” [2×07], “Reunion” [2×10], “Reprise” [2×15], “Epiphany” [2×16], “That Old Gang of Mine” [3×03], “Billy” [3×06], “Couplet” [3×14], “Benediction” [3×21] and “Home” [4×22]. The only episodes that score below an 80 are “Sense and Sensitivity” [1×06] and “Couplet” [3×14], and including these, there are only three episodes that fall below 95. Having seen the series several times, I feel safe in declaring that Tim Minear is probably the only writer on Television who is as intelligent, original, consistent and compelling as Joss Whedon himself. But enough gushing.

At the core of his latest dark and memorable piece is, ironically, a story about love. Pure, unconditional and undebatable love; the ultimate irrationality and the reason for living for so many people, even the undead people. Darla is the central figure in this, even moreso than in “Offspring” [3×07] and “Quickening” [3×08], and right at the start we see that something is different: she cries. Not angrily, or desperately, but sadly. As we learn later, she is now sharing the soul of her human baby, and is beginning to feel selfless human emotion: She loves her child. The soul it shares with her allows her to be a mother, someone who gives life.

And it allows her to, for the first time, lament her existence as a vampire, a creature that can only give death. In beautiful callbacks to previous episodes, she refers to the child as her darling boy like she once did Angel, whom she sired because she saw the potential of his corruptible, youthful innocence. Now as her child dies she thinks only of protecting of its life to preserve such innocence, as it is the only thing she has ever been able to love because of the soul it gives to her; the only good thing she’s ever done. She killed the innocent Liam, sired Angelus and ravaged the world for centuries, causing untold pain and suffering.

So it’s a poetic justice for Darla to become a mother. She’s in love with something living for the first time and thus comes to realize the scope of the pain she inflicted. Her struggle is entwined with Angel’s, who comes literally face to face with his past crimes in Holtz. Right from the opening scene his presence is at once compelling, sympathetic and fear-inspiring. Not since Vocah in “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] has a villain managed to become a terrifying force against the protagonists so quickly. He too is motivated by love, or rather his loss of it. In one of the episode’s most potent scenes, we see the tremendously perverse and horrifying fate of his family.

With few words these scenes illustrate the depth of his convictions. Here is a family man so deeply wounded by death that he has become a mindless, cold, force for it while Angel has taken his old place as the noble crusader against evil, fighting for the purity of life and the life of his child. Angel loves his human existence, his surrogate family at Angel Investigations and his unborn baby but even as everything hangs in the balance, he still tells Holtz what he’s come to realize since “Epiphany” [2×16]: He can’t ever make up for what he’s done. Angelus and Darla didn’t just steal human lives from him, but the very compassion that made him human, and that is a much worse crime.

Darla knows this just as well as Angel does. After all the suffering she’s caused she’s finally capable of recognizing her sins (her child’s gift to her), and makes the ultimate sacrifice: she uses death, her vampiric nature, to create life. Before she does this she says the same things to Angel that he said to Holtz: Whatever redemption may be achieved will always be insufficient. The cost of lives and souls can’t be measured against others saved, and all one can do is what one does. To those wronged it will never be enough, and Holtz is a prime exemplar of this if there ever was one.

His soul needs saving more than anyone’s, and yet those with the mission can never help him. Angel will always be a demon to him, soul or not. Holtz cruelly cast his own daughter into sunlight to destroy her upon concluding that she was just a demon. It’s as sick an act as what was done to her by Angelus and Darla. Just the same way, Holtz labels anyone who stands in his way as worthy of God’s wrath as Angel. He is willing to kill Wolfram and Hart’s human commandos, threatens Lilah and any human justice, uses demons for soldiers and has no qualms about killing every last one of Angel’s human friends. They’ve all become demons in his eyes.

He’s allowed himself to be used for sinister purposes, but has crossed still a worse line that even Angel doesn’t see. But Angel saw he and Darla were as responsible for this manifestation of Holtz’s existence as they are their own child’s, and I loved the exponential parallels the situation gave us: Holtz was a force of life that was made into one of death by a creature who has now taken the side of life. And this creature who stole his life (his family) has now created a new one that may exist to better the life of Earth’s people or destroy it. In S4, Connor’s role in the Tro-Clon prophecy does both. But how reliable are prophecies really? On the metaphysical side of the episode we have the scrolls and Darla.

The scrolls are originally interpreted to foretell a birth, but are re-interpreted to foretell death. Darla’s choice is the first outright defiance of prophecy on this show. Where Angel’s movement away from his champion, reward-seeking existence marked a departure from his desire to fulfill the Shanshu Prophecy, the value of action in the face of pre-destination is openly practiced for the first time by Darla. It’s an indeterminist stance in the face of a determined outcome; where the prophecy is a straight line with events colluding based on the forces that motivated them to their destination, the choices the characters make recognize the prophecy as only one of many possible outcomes.

That the prophecy is rendered true is only by a warped interpretation of it. It only appeared to be fulfilled from a certain perspective, as destiny is effective only so far as you believe it is. It’s completely possible that our wills are inevitably driven to fixed outcomes by other forces in the world, but to believe we hold so little control in our own lives would be pessimistic to the effect of neutering the will to live. Darla’s choice was one of the most beautiful sacrifices I could ever conceive of because of its sheer conviction. With it, the writers have moved us to a world where prophecies are real and demonstrable, and also defiable. I love this show.

Like all of Angel’s best episodes, these ideas are blended well with the character development, but this is likely the most effective mix in the show’s run. You may not even catch a lot of things the first time through, as the plot barrels on at such a tight pace, punctured by several iconic moments of drama for the series. Darla’s confession of love and her last apology are two of the best individual moments in the show’s run, both of them at once oppressively dark and hopeful. In the vein of “Reprise” [2×15], this is an episode that stays with you in your heart and stomach long after your screen fades to black. As it should.

Because from here on in things are never the same. The Connor/Holtz arc of this season only strengthens the statements made here about destiny and prophecy, particularly concerning Wesley, who is manipulated by the very prior causal forces I discussed. And the tone of the series’ existentialism takes a darker turn with the theft of Connor in “Sleep Tight” [3×16], foreshadowed here, in that Angel not only gives up pursuing an objective end in his mission, but suffers so terribly at the hands of those he feels are justified that he comes to believe that the objective end is impossible to achieve. One can only act, never attain. Like the philosophies of “Reprise” [2×15] and “Epiphany” [2×16], these are grand ideas to try and purport.

Much of our society is designed according to the objective goal: The American Dream, the life where we are given our due for our work and an afterlife where we are rewarded or punished ultimately for our actions. AtS’ viewpoint is far braver and more difficult to comprehend in its increasing nihilism, as even those who believe in meaning as a purely personal thing independent of some objective arbiter (usually referred to as G O D), struggle between those ideals and the objective ends that we are told will make us happy. But if we can defy those and still be great, even if we’re unhappy, that’s something remarkable in a league of its own.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Angel’s brutally honest admission about his crimes against Holtz.
+ Holtz sprinkling the water at Lilah.
+ Darla’s mental freak out in the car.
+ Angel’s “what are we looking at?”
+ The flashbacks to Holtz’s past. Here the man becomes a real threat as his motivations become clear; Darla and Angelus’ cruelty is perverse beyond comprehension.
+ Everyone smacking Gunn to test the sanctuary spell.
+ The terror of watching Holtz non-chalantly entering the club, only being able to imagine what’s coming.
+ The beautiful contrast of fire and rain in the final scene. This is probably the most amazing photographic moment of the series.


Foreshadowing

* Holtz makes no distinction between those with souls and those without them in who he classifies as demons. In “Sleep Tight” [3×16], he is prepared to kill all of Angel Investigations and even Justine for showing any sympathy, or even morally grey understanding of Angel.
* Angel believes that he can no longer achieve any real redemption because of the magnitude of what he’s done. This theme is deeper explored in S4 and S5 and becomes the mission statement for the show, as he begins fighting the fight despite the impossibility of ever ‘earning’ his soul back.


[Score]

EXCEPTIONAL

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20 thoughts on “Angel 3×09: Lullaby”

  1. [Note: mark_davo posted this comment on April 20, 2007.]

    “Holtz cruelly cast his own daughter into sunlight to destroy her upon concluding that she was just a demon. It’s as sick an act as what was done to her by Angelus and Darla.”

    Surely if Buffy’s taught us anything, it’s that once you become a vampire your soul is dead, and therefore anything that remains inside you is worthless. Therefore staking a normal vampire, like Holtz’s daughter is no different to killing any demon.
    In Buffy, time and time again we see people turned to vamps, and Giles/Buffy being very clear about what had to be done: from Xander staking his best friend Jesse in WTTH, to Buffy dusting an old friend of hers in Lie to Me.
    To say Holtz’s daughter was somehow less of a vampire because she was young, seems to get in the way of the mythology that has been established from day one.

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  2. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on April 20, 2007.]

    I don’t quite know how you got that out of it. My point is that this was her father, who can look at her and see nothing left. He could’ve staked her or just let the sun get at her but instead he was forceful and violent to someone who was once his daughter. It’s disturbing because she still has the face of his daughter and even with that he’s able to dispatch her in the most brutal way only a day after her murder; it speaks volumes about his instant transformation.

    You may disagree, but I find it an unsettling act to see a father commit.

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  3. [Note: mark_davo posted this comment on April 22, 2007.]

    As far as I can see the reason he throws her outside is to confirm what she is, rather than risk staking and killing her if she’s still human (a hope he must surely have despite the evidence). The reason he doesn’t let the sun, or even anyone else do it is because Holtz is someone who likes to be in control of his own destiny and leaves little to chance. The reason for the forcefulness is because of his anger, and it surely would have been easier for him to do it if he thought of her as nothing more than a monster.
    I also think keeping her alive would have been just as disturbing: she would serve as a constant reminder of what Angel and Darla did to the rest of his family and surely only create more bitterness inside him for what they did.

    Gunn also dusted a member of his family, but he became a better person for it in the long run.He joined Angel’s mission of ‘saving souls’ rather than lives. The events of Double or Nothing most obviously showing this change.

    I feel it’s Holtz’ decisions in light of having to dust his daughter, rather than the event itself that show the change in him.

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  4. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on March 7, 2008.]

    What Angelus and Darla is definitively sick but what disturbs more is that they left the daughter as a vampire, therefore Holtz had to kill her himself. I agree with Ryan, she is now a vampire but she still has the face of Holtz´s daughter, so it´s very unsettling watching him do that. Amazing episode and amazing review.

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  5. [Note: Arouet posted this comment on July 25, 2009.]

    I don’t think Angel’s realization here that he can never redeem himself is a result of Epiphany, but an abandonment of it. During Epiphany he may have forsaken the idea that all would be made right once he had completed his destiny, but he still had hope that he could defy the evil within him by healing and helping others day after day. Whereas you note after this episode he stops acting like a “champion” and becomes concerned only with protecting his family. In other words, he tried to be like any other normal human being. For the rest of season 3 he ceases to seek redemption and is perfectly willing to do both good and evil according to his passions or his love of his family, which is similar to, but more mundane than, his fall in season 2 to some of the archetypically worse failings of humanity.

    But as you have explained, in your review of Guise Will Be Guise, of Angel’s failure to accept that he is a mixture of Liam and Angelus, in that he considered himself as primarily a demon, I think after Lullaby he goes in the opposite direction and tries to deny his demon nature.

    Which is why Deep Down is so important because mirroring Epiphany, where he ceased denial of his humanity (realizing he was mistaken in believing that only a demon could commit evil), in Deep Down he ceased his attempt to be a normal human being, reembraced both sides of his identity, and took on the champion persona once more, albeit on more pessimistic terms.

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  6. [Note: Thrupcat posted this comment on October 21, 2009.]

    I still have to read your review on this one, but I am too impatient to wait, so I’ll just say now that I was bored to tears with the pregnancy story. I remember thinking “go on and have that baby already, pretty please!” But I’m sure I will hold the storyline and the episode in higher esteem after reading your reviews, since you always show me layers I had not discovered yet. Thanks for that! And for making my bedtime hours: I always read one or more of your reviews. Tonight it will be Judgment.

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  7. [Note: AJD posted this comment on December 4, 2009.]

    I don’t see Holtz’s actions towards his daughter as cruel or sick at all. He had to do it. Darla and Angelus knew that he would have to do it. And that is exactly why they turned her – to further Holtz’s suffering. He hated doing it and it added to his hatred for Darla and Angelus.

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  8. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on February 2, 2010.]

    Lornes face as he unintentionally reads Holtz as he leaves singing was a good moment. He goes from pouring drinks and miming the words to scared realisation in a second. Gunn easily explaining that the force field can be loop-holed by being outside and chucking stuff in after Lorne failed to properly explain what happened.

    You could see pain in Holtz’s eyes when he threw his daughters body into the sunlight and it was more humane than letting her wait hours for the sunlight to reach her in the house. He didn’t want to draw out his agony of watching his daughters face suffering in the corner.

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  9. [Note: JammyJu posted this comment on April 5, 2010.]

    What a brilliant episode. The direction was just sublime and left me in awe, and to see it was once again Tim Minear who wrote this episode, again solidifies his position as probably the best writer/director on Angel.

    For me, Tim really understands the universe, themes and characters that Angel is all about.

    Also I agree with Ryan, seeing Holtz quite brutally shoving his daughter into the sun-light was quite a tough act to watch, and it made for a more contextualised show, but added much reason for his vengeance hunt on both Angel and Darla.

    Fantastic episode.

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  10. [Note: smallprint84 posted this comment on August 29, 2011.]

    I also like to say: Goodbye Darla 😦 and thank you, thank you, beautiful Julie Benz, for your wonderful performance for the role of Darla.

    It al began with Darla:

    – first character’s line Buffy

    – Darla > Angel(us) > Dru > Spike

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

    This time I agree with the rating, great episode. And they indeed managed to build up suspense for the rest of the season here. Not in the episodes before, because the villains were just not interesting enough before and there was not much at stake (Apocalypse, meh. Protecting Angels child, yeah!).

    Holtz seems to turn into a great villain, multilayered and not even evil.

    And Darlas last scene was just genius, I really didn’t see that one coming.

    Love the mix of drama and comedy here, even liked the idea of Darla being affected by the soul of her unborn child. Might be a bit cheesy but this time I really think it is meaningful beyond just building dramatic tension. Getting a child can turn complete egoists into caring parents, it is a very powerful experience. Ok, a little flat, given. But still better than any foolish comic nerd gibberish about what it means to be a hero or good and evil and other hollow concepts.

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  12. [Note: Monica posted this comment on December 1, 2013.]

    I love this episode, specifically for two reasons.

    The first is Holtz. One of my favorite things about AtS, which differentiates itself from its parent series, is the ongoing emphasis on the grey area. On Buffy the villains were pretty concrete in their roles. Despite often being affable, relatable, and likable, it was clear that they were wrong and the Scoobies were right. As the second season proved with its near-flawless beige-Angel arc and with the amoral Pyleans, it’s not always that simple. Holtz, as characterized here, epitomizes this. At this point, he’s a very intriguing villain and his purpose here is almost justifiable. Brilliant work here, and it kills me that Holtz, in my opinion at least, gets misused as the season progresses. The third season does that to me an unfortunate amount of times.

    The second, and more important factor, is Darla. Christ, was a journey. I love Darla, and felt her usage throughout Angel is easily the most consistent of any main or recurring character. It was truly fitting that she go out with a bang, as an evil hero. As upsetting it was to know that Darla’s truly gone, and I’d only ever see her again in flashbacks (and as a ghost), it was the perfect way to go out and makes up for any sadness. Incredible.

    If I had one issue, and I’m sure many either don’t care or disagree and prefer it the way it went, it’d be with Fred being there during Connors birth instead of Cordelia. Just keeping in mind the fact that Cordelia assumed the role of Connor’s mother and had a budding relationship with Angel, it seemed much more fitting for it to be her. However, Fred getting a good moment during a crucial part of the series is certainly still good.

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  13. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on April 21, 2014.]

    Error: While trying to create the new sanctuary spell Lorne says “Caritas is and will always be a sanctuary”. Later on the demon mimics Lorne, but his recording of Lorne’s words are mixed up with “is and always will be”. Just caught it.

    One of the best of season 3

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  14. [Note: Jahn posted this comment on August 6, 2014.]

    Very good episode, though I must disagree that Holtz casting his daughter into the sunlight was cruel. I found it to be an act of strength and mercy. The weaker and far more despicable path would have been to pretend she was still his daughter, thus letting a demon ride around in her skin and kill people. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of innocents who have died in BtVS and AtS due to the weak stomachs of the primary cast, it was rather nice to see someone do what was needed for once. It was very obviously a horrible, gut wrenching choice for him, given the time he sat there and his expression.

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  15. [Note: B posted this comment on November 15, 2014.]

    Darla’s sacrifice is beautifully bittersweet
    !!! It’s noble and brave. This is one of the best episodes of one of the greatest shows of all time!!! Tim is a very talented man, but I hated his if I had written the series finale I would have had Angel turn human and trip and break his neck ending!!!

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  16. [Note: Andyb posted this comment on August 17, 2015.]

    I love these reviews so much but just have a question. The prophecy foretells a death and while I know Darla is already dead, vampires could be seen to ‘die’ as a vampire. Does this fit or am I missing something? My interpretation was that the scroll was hard to interpret because it wasn’t the birth of Connor but the ‘death’ of a vampire. I may be wrong? As I said love Critically Touched so much!

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  17. [Note: B posted this comment on February 13, 2017.]

    Even though Darla is a demon she sacrifices herself for her child a demon may be a soulless creature but it still dies when its killed.

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