Angel 3×13: Waiting in the Wings

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 02/04/2002]

“Waiting in the Wings” is another fan favourite episode of the show in the vein of “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” [2×02]: fantastical, highly interesting, oozing in atmosphere and at the heart of it: an old-fashioned mystery that leads to an unexpectedly touching place. While it’s not as good as “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” [2×02] it’s good enough, and is, if not anything else, quite a memorable experience. Like that episode, everything that happens in it is predicated on an old fashioned gimmick ripped from classic TV plots: “The X goes to the Y!” Substitute family/beach, group/foreign city where needed. Indeed, ‘Angel Investigations goes to the ballet’ sounds like a damned odd gimmick to start with, even for a show as ‘unique’ as this.

But never fear. With Joss Whedon writing and directing for the first time since “City of” [1×01], we’re in for a cliche destroying treat. And unlike in S4 or S5, his dialogue here isn’t too boppy, happy, or Buffy-like for the “Angel” characters; this is a point at which Angel Investigations is its happiest and most unified. Everyone has plenty of things to laugh about, and throughout the episode, in the drama or the comedy, you get the sense that this is an intensely tight little family as they take jabs at one another and just enjoy each others company. This series is never light, but one of my favourite things about S3 is that the gang actually gets to be happy for a bit.

Of course, that doesn’t last. This is a Joss Whedon show, and joy unburdened by agonizing context should always read akin to a giant neon sign flashing “PAIN AHEAD!” “Sleep Tight” [3×16] is the season’s most tragic episode, but there’s still a good gut punch or two for the characters and the audience here. In addition to beautiful cinematography, lusciously designed sets, impressive action and dance choreography, and clever editing that effectively enhances the soft aesthetic of the ballet outing, the show boasts a moving tale of fate and romance. Whedon uses the ballet company as the central metaphor for the group to resounding success; all of them trapped in time, echoing.

The central thematic question is: Can we defy our fates? The episode doesn’t look at fate as some great cosmic plan, but determinism as I discussed it in my review of “Quickening” [3×08]: the unavoidable confluence of events brought together by the way of the world. If one person is as he is, and another is as she is, then something between them may be destined – in a way – to happen. Consider the saying “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” My response to that is “Yes you would. I would do that, so if you were me, you wouldn’t be you, you would be me, and so you would do exactly that.” Things seem to be ‘destined’ in this way between members of Angel Investigations.

In “Offspring” [3×07], Fred mentioned ‘kyrumption:’ the meeting of two great champions in the field, and used it to imply a destined romance between Angel and Cordelia. Lorne, who has spent his time in L.A. helping others map out their personal destinies, sees ‘kyrumption’ as well. Angel has now grown into a fully mature member of human society both practically (having Connor, creating a family with Angel Investigations) and metaphysically (realizing his worth in “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] and defining his desire to simply help the suffering in “Epiphany” [2×16]). Cordelia has too, having gone from a materialistic, irreconcilable bitch trapped outside regular humanity in her own way, to a heroic champion with a mission (where Angel was in S1, minus the depression).

They have a strong bond of friendship and trust, and have come to a mutual understanding of one another’s strengths and weaknesses. That their ‘destiny’ to be together doesn’t seem a contrivance is a credit to the long-term continuity of this series. There is also Fred and Wesley, who share intellectual graces and find reassurance in one another. Finally, there is Fred and Gunn, who despite seeming to have nothing in common, both make remarks about appreciating beauty in this episode; they both have good hearts, and act on a general attraction the way anyone else would. There is potential for all of these pairings, but the metaphor of the ballet demonstrates why some are acted on and some aren’t.

The Prima Ballerina of the company represents the main question of fate, having lived her life for her goal: to dance. She had presumably worked her whole life, as many professional dancers do, to hone the skill and grace required of a ballet performer. Much like Angel, she attempted to deny herself the greatest passions and pleasures of life (her love with Stefan) due to her high regard for the past; the time she spent preparing. Angel’s past as Angelus, especially after Sunnydale, kept him from actively pursuing love or happiness because he too couldn’t let ago of the significance of that other life he’d lived. But love seemed destined to happen to both of them.

When in the presence of the spirits of Stefan and the Ballerina, Angel and Cordelia, acting out their past, are compelled helplessly to one another; their union seems inescapable, for whom they were and their passion for each other could do nothing but bring them together. This seems true of both couples. But like the Ballerina, Angel’s inability to detach himself from the past cost him the prospective future; he was hesitant to act on his feelings, and when he finally did, fate stepped in. The love of another man for the woman of the pair interfered, something also painfully true of the Fred-Wesley-Gunn triangle, in which we are meant to root for Wesley.

His parallel to Kurskov is the pivotal moment in the episode, both for the plot and for the theme. He’s clearly overtaken by jealousy, connecting completely to Count Kurskov’s anger and bitterness. But where Kurskov changed his love’s fate for the worse, Wesley and Angel, despite their hesitations, change fate for the better. As the third cog in the wheel of destiny for the Fred-Gunn-Wesley triangle, Wesley does what Kurskov didn’t have the strength to do: to truly love his object of affection. Where he could’ve intervened and possibly won over Fred, he encouraged her to stay with the person she chose of her own volition, and in addition to that avoided risking his friendship with Gunn.

And Angel and the Prima Ballerina finally summoned the courage to let go of their reservations and by so doing, changed the paths they were on, even if their triumphs were only partial. To what heaven, hell, or nameless oblivion the Ballerina goes we don’t know, and Angel didn’t win Cordelia. The philosophical answer to the question of the episode is the classical answer to the question of the destiny issue: no matter what may be unequivocally true, to act as though we are free is the only way to live. To submissively accept fate is to echo. Angel, Wesley and the Ballerina don’t appear to come out on top, but bravely move forward nonetheless.

While this answer to the thematic question isn’t a new or bold idea, how potently Whedon explores it through these characters gives us a genuine example to emotionally relate to. Many say we put faith in free will over determinism as a pat emotional response to a tough dilemma; a lullaby sung to help us sleep easier. But the dramatic construct with which the episode makes its point is so well done that it made me reconsider that thought. I’m a fan of philosophy, so this was my favourite thing about the episode. Along with some extremely sharp dialogue and memorable exchanges, “Waiting in the Wings” is a tremendously enjoyable hour, even if it doesn’t rise to greatness.

It’s also a very important part of this season’s tapestry for Angel and Wesley. Losing Cordelia to the Groosalug is a key piece of Angel’s descent following the tragic events of “Sleep Tight” [3×16], just as Wesley’s losing of Fred important to his own personal tragedy. This is but the first of a few terrible failings (or happenings of fate, depending on how you look at it) of theirs that allow them to be moved to doing terrible things, a fact which makes you wonder if the ‘destiny’ Sahjahn has planned for them is already in motion simply because of the way of the world. Interesting thought.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Dennis and the loofah. Uhmm…
+ Gunn’s trust issues.
+ Cordy and Fred having girl talk.
+ Lorne’s pastry talk.
+ Gunn looking ‘pretty.’
+ The first TV appearance of Summer Glau, who would go on to star in “Firefly.”
+ Cordelia: “Hey! Do you like bribes?!”
+ The Spinal Tap reference. Nice one, Joss.


Foreshadowing

* Wesley’s jealousy over Fred and Gunn becomes a sticking point for him. In “Loyalty” [3×15] he is harsh to both of them about their relationship, and in “Soulless” [4×11] he and Gunn come to blows over Fred, as well as Wesley stealing Connor in “Sleep Tight” [3×16], something which the loss of Fred made him more willing to do.
* The Groosalug seems to merely distract Cordelia from Angel. This is symbolic of their relationship, which Cordelia realizes is hollow and static in “Tomorrow” [3×22].


[Score]

90/100

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14 thoughts on “Angel 3×13: Waiting in the Wings”

  1. [Note: casey21 posted this comment on July 19, 2008.]

    I absolutely love this episode

    I watch it over and over again and i love Cordy and angel being possessed. they are so hot togther!

    Too bad Cordy turned evil and rejected Angel, i hate what they did with her character, she belongs to Angel.

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  2. [Note: Plain Simple posted this comment on July 27, 2008.]

    One minor complaint I have with this episode in the light of the whole ‘tight family’ theme: why did they leave Lorne behind without even asking if he wanted to go? Sure, someone should take care of Connor, but they could have at least asked if he didn’t mind… Well, at least we got a nice lullaby out of it.

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  3. [Note: Leelu posted this comment on March 7, 2009.]

    I’m assuming they excluded Lorne because they still aren’t really THAT tight with him, and he would be wicked conspicuous at the ballet. You know, the horns and being green and all.

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

    I liked the look Fred gave Gunn when he was talking about watching tutus and guys big packages jumping around, her smile to him was funny to me.

    Wesley’s comment to Cordelia about her snoring. It didn’t really come back to bite him – unless you count the outcome of Lilah, but that wasn’t Cordy.

    Liked the deleted scene with Amy Acker dancing around (she is really good) and Wesley trying to dance.

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  5. [Note: Jenny posted this comment on June 22, 2010.]

    Love this atmospheric episode. Watching the series for the second time, I was excited to see Summer Glau as the ballerina. How funny that she became so important in the Jossverse!

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  6. [Note: warrenEBB posted this comment on December 30, 2010.]

    great review!

    one random burning question: is it possible whedon was using the ballerina character as a substitute/symbol for Buffy, in Angel’s psyche? Joss had just recently delivered the musical “once more with feeling” on her show. I felt like “the old bad man needing to wake up and let go of the little girl” worked as kind of a parallel for angel needing to let go of his old image of buffy- before he could move on to a relationship with Cordy.

    not sure it all adds up, but I can’t stop wondering at the details.

    Also find it interesting to see angel and cordy stuck in ghost roles, just as angel and buffy once were (In I only have eyes for you, which supposedly was the episode that convinced Whedon that Boreanez could carry his own show). Feel that ghost element of the episode suggests something important about how Whedon views the Angel/Buffy relationship at this point in time. (angel sees himself as a good guy who is just a powerless third wheel to the girl he loves? or maybe angel really sees himself as a bitter old man with a hard heart of stone, who needs to have his heart smashed so the girl can stop going through the motions)?

    … I should probably have worked up better evidence before posting this weak argument. but. Yay internet is free! wee!

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  7. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 4, 2011.]

    I love to believe that Fred did say her last words in these episode to comfort Wesley. Yes, I believe that she is that caring and sensitive.

    Also loved all those innuendos in many of the dialogues, the fact that Wesley and Gunn didn’t have some stupid fight about Fred (would have disturbed the atmosphere of this unique episode), the Kyrumption talk (great running gag, nothing more to it), the fact that Cordy essentially still is the same old Cordy from Buffy (snores at Ballet, still not extremely bright (bringing a cross in the room won’t help if the spirit doesn’t know what she knows), still very charming despite all that), the reminiscence to Buffy’s “I Only Have Eyes For You” and River Tam err… Summer Glau of course.

    Again, I think Ryan overdoes the philosophy talk but in this case I can actually follow most of what he is writing. You can read the determination/faith vs free will dilemma into all this (esp with all the unrequited love and the ballerina) but I think you have more fun if you don’t. Any random sci fi time travel episode with the usual “by trying to change your destiny you fulfil it” plot twist does that a lot better.

    Angel for example just didn’t have the courage to confess his love before it was too late (nothing destined about that, people move on if you don’t say what you feel for them) and the Ballerina was chlichéd. If she really would have had to endure 100 years repeating the same dance every night she would have gone insane. And I still don’t understand what exactly the count was doing to her. She said that she did exactly the same performance for 100 years. Did she dance on her own (then why?) or was she some kind of puppet controlled by Kurskov before Angel and the others weakened him enough to let her resist? I guess the later but it didn’t seem to be clarified.

    Bottom line, I liked the plot, maybe not overly original, but very well done and a mix of gloomy athmosphere and goofy fun is always a treat for me. Joss Whedon ep, obviously. 🙂

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  8. [Note: bella posted this comment on January 5, 2012.]

    What is called the music 1:57? irritates me because it is everywhere I look I find it, so I have, I know it’s a score of course but I find I think there is, ANYONE nOT ????!!!!!

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  9. [Note: bella posted this comment on January 5, 2012.]

    oh sorry I meant while Angel watches the ballet he realizes that he has already seen is also hears music when he beat in the background and Wesley track or when it comes to explain that human was in love with the dancer means the music has a place, I know it’s a score but I find no one in I would love to have could you tell me ???!!!!

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  10. [Note: seewoods posted this comment on December 4, 2012.]

    Watching poor Angel literally run from the room after Groo walks in and starts making out with Cordelia, just as he was trying to actually express some feelings for once… that was the saddest sequence in the episode for me. All the build-up between those two, and for naught! And not just in this episode, either. Heartbreaking, but that’s good TV I guess.

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  11. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on August 17, 2016.]

    Does anyone know who’s in the ballet company that we see performing in this episode? Summer Glau is the only performer listed in the credits which really surprised me.

    Like

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