[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: Marita Grabiak | Aired: 04/29/2002]
AtS is nothing if not a series about consequences. Even before the series’ inception, the character of Angel (during his BtVS tenure) focused on the threat from within and the extent of moral culpability. So in a season that focuses on responsibility it’s not surprise that we’re getting a lot of riffing on direct and harsh consequences. “The Price” is another solid offering that’s strong on its emotions, though weak in plot and parts of its execution. Some things work, some things don’t. It’s interesting, though unremarkable compared to most episodes in this series; another microcosm for S3 as a whole. But some things really do stick, and there’s an intriguing setup for the three episode season-closing arc to come.
The first episode to tackle the theme of responsibility profoundly was S1’s “The Prodigal” [1×15]. There, we learned why Angel felt guilty about his violent past as Angelus: because his life as an ignorant, drunken wastrel led him to Darla’s arms, and to (un)life as a vampire. That episode took place during a very different time of Angel’s life, however. During S1, Angel was crippled by guilt; a deep, self-inflicted punishment not commiserate with the offence the human Liam was responsible for. But this period of Angel’s life is different. Since “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] he’s been free of his self-inflicted guilt, and faced it more externally. Especially in the shadow of the Holtz arc, it’s become harder for him to justify himself.
And that’s what we deal with here. Angel is forced to stare the consequences of his reckless actions right in the face. It’s not the first time that his actions have caused great pain for someone he cares about (remember the Darla arc?), nor will it be the last, but being reminded of the ugliness his selfish, reactionary personality can bring about is necessary for him at this juncture. So to do this the writers introduce to us the Slusks: small, hard-to-detect creatures which crawl inside people and cripple them with need. In this case that need is water, a vital ingredient for creating or sustaining life.
Their basic function as a metaphor is to show the brutality of reckless thinking. When they begin taking over the hotel, the gang goes into a panic. Most of the episode is a fight to survive after having seen the frightening effects of infection by one of the slusks. Before turning into dust, a possessed man, an innocent bystander, turns to Angel and tells him that all of this is his fault. Before long we dive into this plot thread and discover that the Slusks have been living inside of the hotel – brought into being by Angel’s dark ritual in “Forgiving” [3×17] – and have gone on the attack because something darker is coming that they want to run from, apparently brought about by Angel as well.
It becomes especially personal when Angel not only has the death of this man on his conscience, but the fate of Fred when she becomes infected. The question of his culpability in this is far clearer than someone like Wesley’s was in the fate of Connor, but the new thing is that Angel fully admits his guilt, admits to the distastefulness of the methods he chose, but refuses to re-think his actions. As a man who has tended to examine the means before using the ends to justify them, at least since “Epiphany” [2×16], Angel has taken a step in a different direction now that he’s lost his son.
You can try and justify it as a ‘love transcends all’ argument, but what it really boils down to is selfishness and compromise. Angel had such a strong love for his son that he was willing to compromise everything he stood for in the interest of making himself feel alright. When Holtz took Connor in “Sleep Tight” [3×16], he even expressed his desire to give the boy a good life and to be a father for him. From an unemotional, outside point of view, Angel had absolutely no reason to seek out his son except to save himself from despair. Not only does he acknowledge this, but he embraces it while making no attempt to morally justify it. In his mind he doesn’t have to.
Like Wesley’s new state, this is a quietly approached yet disquieting place for Angel to land. He’s suffered so much he just can’t be unequivocally selfless anymore, and it’s the subtle start on the path that will eventually lead him to go work for Wolfram and Hart at the end of “Home” [4×22]. And what of Wesley? In one deliciously dark scene he lets out all his bitterness. Like Angel, he recognizes his mistake on some level but doesn’t care. The pain he’s been caused by Angel is so great that he’s willing to take the chance that people in the Hotel will die until Fred’s name comes up; he helps only out of his affection for her.
Such scenes as these riveted me to the screen. The clear parallel between the politics of W&H’s moral indifference and the self-centered decisions of Angel and Wes are powerful to consider. And actually, my main issue with the episode is that the monsters and the premise just aren’t scary enough to match the deeper implications of the plot. Even the heavy-handed sequence from “Billy” [3×06], in which Wesley stalked Fred with an axe, played more tensely than this. Some of the scenes were just downright uninteresting, and I found myself wishing to see more Gunn/Wesley interaction, or more scenes at Wolfram and Hart (where Gavin finally came off as mildly interesting).
There’s also the lame plot device of Cordy’s magical powers saving everyone’s asses with no price (emotional or otherwise) paid; something I detested. Sure it makes sense if you consider the greater scope of the PTB’s plans for Cordelia that we learn of in S4, and they’d want to save everyone’s asses to see their objectives accomplished. I just can’t shake the notion that it’s too trite a resolution in an episode about brutal consequences. At least “Double or Nothing” [3×18], which resolved things too easily, did so for some worthwhile dramatic effect.
Most of all, I find I absolutely do not care about Cordelia and the Groosalug, whereas during “Couplet” [3×14] I was at least somewhat interested in the effect the pairing had on Angel. Entertaining though he may be, he’s just not a very interesting character and their relationship is too tepid. That’s a fine comment in and of itself, but it shouldn’t be the central source of conflict pre-occupying a major character (or two) unless it has more fire to it. Miscalculations like this, and others like keeping the story limited to sequences of running around the hotel or moments of emotional power, hurt the overall effect.
But hey, what an ending the episode has. Connor’s return to the land of the living will bring us to a new phase of the season, and for the most part it’ll be a pretty exciting-if-imperfect one. See you there.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordelia remembering the one time it snowed in Southern California (the BtVS episode “Amends”).
+ Groo’s double-entendres.
+ Lorne missing his night club.
+ The final scene with Connor jumping out of the portal. Now that’s a cliffhanger.
* Cordelia remarks that Groo is lovable like a puppy, indicating that her interest in him is in little more than the gratification she gets. She realizes this fully in “Tomorrow” [3×22].
* The gang are left with a dilemma: save Fred at the expense of others, or let her perish. The heavy consequences of this same type of choice come into play in a big way in “A Hole in the World” [5×15] and “Shells” [5×16].
* Wes indicates that he’s done with Angel Investigations, and only helps in the interest of Fred. She’s the only thing that pulls him back into their affairs in S4.