[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Scott Murphy | Director: Bill Norton | Aired: 01/21/2002]
I love this show dearly. I truly do. Since I began writing these reviews I’ve discovered depths to this amazing program most will never even be aware of to appreciate and I owe my desire to professionally write to Joss Whedon and his emissaries of awesomeness throughout the ‘verse: Buffy, Angel and Firefly, the last of which I saw first; it was the show that gave me faith in TV’s potential to be an art form. So as I begin my review of “Provider” I find myself pained to have to write what I’m about to, what I couldn’t even write for the thematically top-heavy and plot-choppy “She” [1×13]: I hated this episode. I hated hated hated hated hated hated hated hated it. Oh, good God did I frakking hate it.
And having to review it only made me hate it more. At best, “Provider” is shallow, bearable pop entertainment, and trying to analyze it further is like pulling screws out of your ear by going through the other side of your skull. This is a painful statement to make about any episode of my beloved show, but here it applies. Because even when Angel is mediocre ( “Over the Rainbow” [2×20]) or bad (“She” [1×13]), it is rarely inept like the worst episodes of Buffy often were. Even the cheesy, poorly-plotted “Dad” [3×10] and the talky, disingenuous “Quickening” [3×08] had worthy themes and social considerations that make AtS the quality program that it is. Even when it lacks visceral power, it’s never dumb.
Except today. This episode’s worst attribute is that it’s just stupid, even to the point of being insulting. The theme is this: money is not everything. No, there is nothing more to the theme than that. When we could’ve, with the same type of plot, explored the idea of duty versus love, the ends vs the means and the power of the abstract over the practical, the episode aims as low as possible; evidently, so it can hit us in the balls. The message here is that friends and family are more important than money, and that providing for a family is more than simply paying bills. But even going into that much detail is doing the theme a favour.
The writers have gone to great lengths since “Epiphany” [2×16] reunited the Gang to show what a family they are, most especially now with Connor in the mix (and Cordy taking the role of de facto mother for him).
So the message of this episode is not only bluntly simple, it is mindless repetition by this point in the season. And that both the A and B plots have uninteresting character developments, little lasting impact, stupid (although well-done, makeup wise) monsters and are extensions of a theme that is painfully inept makes the episode a dry, worthless experience. What often aids AtS and BtVS in overcoming the common perception of them being lame monster shows are their ideas and compelling characters, and there are neither of those things in this episode; Angel seems terribly shallow and downright goofy in his out-of-character quest to make money for the baby. At least in “Dad” [3×10] the out of character actions were part of a (however lame) ruse.
If anyone were to see this episode without context they’d never watch the show again, and I couldn’t honestly blame them. Writer Scott Murphy does at least sprinkle a few funny lines of dialogue in where he can, and I did enjoy the scene with Holtz and Justine. It’s very telling of what their entire dynamic will be: Justine needs Holtz’ companionship; a substitute for the family she’s lost. Holtz only needs her skills, and is willing to sacrifice any part of her to accomplish what he needs to. Here, he tells her to start building an army of soldiers just like her: people who have lost those close to them to vampires.
This aside, there is nothing redeeming about this installment of S3 as a piece of the season or of the series. The quicker we move on the better.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The teaser with the guy and the flyer. Poor guy.
+ Cordy and Angel cuddling with the baby.
– Pretty much everything else.
* Gunn and Wesley’s competitive affections for Fred become important to their characters later on. Losing Fred to Gunn makes it easier for Wesley to betray Angel Investigations in “Sleep Tight” [3×16], and in S4, Fred is a major point of conflict between the two.
* Cordelia starts being a mother for Connor, and this bond of family is what ultimately makes her choose Angel over the Groosalug in “Tomorrow” [3×22].