[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David H. Goodman | Director: Fred Keller | Aired: 12/10/2001]
“Dad” is another episode of S3 with strong, emotionally resonant themes that fails to intellectually engage on the level of the average episode of other AtS seasons. With the exception of the previous episode (“Lullaby” [3×09]), much of this season has that weakness. However, that quality alone does not damn an episode. What does “Dad” in despite its good-intentioned heart is not its main theme, but its plot. The story topic in this episode isn’t bad, but how what happens in exploration of it is contrived and sometimes even insulting; a description I don’t often use in regards to any installment of a show this good.
I wrote a fair deal about the disingenuous attempt to make the birth of Angel’s son seem important via outside interest in my review of “Quickening” [3×08]. The problem there, much like here, is that it’s intrusive and forced. Rather than seeming like an organic development, the many demon groups that we are supposed to fear by proxy of the characters are mindlessly shoveled in as plot devices. They lack in interesting motives, historical context and personality, so we have no reason as an audience to fear them as threats to the stability of the characters or their environment. A plot so preoccupied with them is therefore ineffective because we (rightly) suspect they will be easily dispatched.
Much the same, Wolfram and Hart seems neutered and pathetic under the command of Linwood Murrow in comparison to last season. I find myself missing even the eerie Nathan Reed from “Blood Money” [2×12] and “Dead End” [2×18]. With the primary motivation for the characters (surviving their enemies) is uninteresting, and the jeopardy into which they are placed predictable and contrived, the ability of the plot to perform is severely hindered. But what truly cripples it is the downright insulting mislead during the climax, which asks us to honestly believe that Angel could leave his friends this way. After all the work done in S2 to so tightly solidify this group, to suggest ut beyond asinine. One only needs to have watched the show to know why.
Perhaps it would’ve taken Lindsey to know best, but one would suppose that Wolfram and Hart would know their enemy well enough without him to suspect a trick (especially since they have so many files on him); alas, the plot requires them not to. However, the most fatal miscalculation in the ‘twist’ used to clear up the episode’s main monster threat is how badly it conflicts with the themes of the episode and of the season. S3, like S2, is very multi-faceted. It explores responsibility, destiny, free will and family, with this episode focusing on the latter of all of those. This season in particular the writers have been more strongly harping that Angel Investigations is a family unto itself.
These people have fought, lived(/died), and grown together a great deal. In the wake of his promise to Darla last episode is Angel’s drive to protect his son, and it’s an emotion we sympathize with because it’s been earned by what came before. However, so has the tight bond of Angel Investigations. And so to predicate the salvation of one on the abandonment of another is a mislead doomed to failure because the of bonds within the group that have already been so well established. While I understand the point the point the writers were trying to make, without convincing evidence to suggest that Angel could betray his friends so easily, the twist is far too much of a stretch to be plausible.
What slightly redeems the weak points of the plot are the themes behind it. Usually I look at an episode as a combination of a theme and plot rather than doing a dissection, so I can avoid getting purely analytical and forgetting fan love in my reviews. But given where this hour’s strengths and weaknesses lay it seems fitting. The gaggle of enemies that pursue the baby, in spite of their problems as plot devices, help to strengthen Angel’s connection to his son in an important way. It would’ve been very easy for baby Connor to become a token sympathy card, but the writers do a commendable job of making us emotional about his fate simply because almost no one else is.
Everyone is hunting this child for their own purposes (Holtz, for revenge) while Angel and his friends are the only people on the planet who are interested in saving the child’s life so that he actually may live. The small character moments concerned with this are where the episode briefly shines. At this point in the series Angel is his most human, reflected in the scene where he shows his vampire face to Connor; it’s nothing to be afraid of anymore. To seek redemption for evil he built a family around himself to help others so that they don’t have to suffer as they do. And for the first time that family has a future that goes beyond mystical immortality.
Holtz, on the other hand, seeks revenge for the evil against him, and with Justine and his troop of vampire hunters he will later on use family to his own selfish ends to make others suffer. But Holtz can’t see family as anything but blood-relation and a traditional raising, and while establishing a connection with Justine may be seen as a step up from using demon mercenaries, it’s still purely for his own benefit. He heard what Angel said in “Lullaby” [3×09] and has cast off being Sahjahn’s puppet for his own favour. As the arc progresses, Angel’s bond with his entire family becomes a weapon for Holtz just as his vampire hunters and their attachment to him do.
My favourite scene of the episode, free of the problematic dreck, is Cordelia’s simple illustration of the pure necessity of others to the individual. Connor will want to play out in the sun one day where Angel can’t go. This isn’t a limit on Angel’s humanity, but rather clearly demonstrates it; like any other person there are things he can and can’t do. His group isn’t just a band of demon hunters in how they help him, and directly breaching this subject makes Cordy and the others family for Connor the same way Angel is, as they can help him with Connor too. I enjoy this scene not only for this particular statement, but in retrospect of where we’ve come from to get to it.
Angel went from being a mystical, detached drifter with a heavy heart of gold to a champion with an objective purpose (becoming human via the Shanshu prophecy), and finally to a truly selfless humanitarian. And now at last it seems he’s getting his just rewards; it’s a bit depressing watching this knowing that they won’t last. But for now, he’s happy and whole, and enjoying this triumph alongside Angel Investigations is a strong enough highlight to keep “Dad” from falling all the way into the fire.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Angel’s “my #######.”
+ The big board of enemies.
+ The latest appearance of Sahjahn. This guy, for his lack of depth, is very entertaining.
+ Lilah’s comment on Angel’s name: “What kind of wussy name is Liam anyway?”
– Linwood making baby-talk.
– Angel talking to the baby in the car. Even before we knew the baby was a fake, this scene felt hokey.
* Both Angel’s and Holtz’s uses for their new families come heavily into play later in the season, with Holtz using his to take Angel’s in “Sleep Tight” [3×16], and Angel using his to avoid going back down a dark path in “Forgiving” [3×17].
* Sahjahn finally loses patience with Holtz. In 3×15: “Loyalty” [3×15] and “Sleep Tight” [3×16] he allies himself with Lilah against both Holtz and Angel to try and kill Connor.