[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Jeffrey Bell | Director: Tim Minear | Aired: 05/06/2002]
“A New World” is an episode disappointingly split between action and character, rather than being an enjoyable blending of the two. The first thing thought that comes to mind when you begin watching it is “ENDLESS POTENTIAL.” The uncertainty of Connor’s return and the vagueness of his motives are unclear at first, and there is only rough, unrelenting violence in the excellent teaser for this episode. Unfortunately we get about half an episode of that vagueness before anything really interesting begins happening, and when it does it’s not quite profound enough to save the overall product. What’s left is something that’s mostly setup in a season which has had too many damn setup shows already.
The main problem is that there’s too much plot and not enough true emotional drive in the story until after Sunny’s death. The first two acts consist of running to and from places, with light banter that only hints at the deeper meaning of the episode’s subject mixed in. There are a few character moments too (such as Wes and Lilah’s excellent scene), but for the most part it is all raw plot drive. Given the poor nature of some of the fight sequences (everything after the teaser and before Sunny’s apartment), it adds up to a boring half of an episode. Stories can be imperfect, but they should never be boring. It is the worst sin in writing.
I often found myself wondering exactly what Connor’s purpose was, even knowing what I know of the bloody motives we’re let in on in “Benediction” [3×21]. Though a curiosity about his true parentage underlined him, Connor ultimately came back to kill Angel on behalf of his ‘real’ father. Considering his disinterest in other people, the greater context of any situation or understanding anyone’s motives but his own (hey, sounds like most teenagers!), the series of events that lead him to Sunny feel ill-conceived. However, there are a few small notes that give us insight into Connor. Though the new world is strange and alien to him, he nimbly tackles it: climbing buses, jumping over bridges and dodging cars.
What throws him for a loop is moral and social complexity. Given what he knows of Angel, he has every reason to hate him from the first moment he sees him. Angel’s mercy in the first scene confuses the warrior Connor, who would’ve seen his enemy dead in the same situation were he on the other side of the stake. Our first sense of the boy is a hunter with a morality to match: save the good, kill the evil, abandon the weak. This is interesting material, but only a sampler. And it’s not enough to overcome my feeling that his initial shock at Angel’s compassion was not sufficient enough an emotional force to drive him away for half an episode.
But from the start of the third act things improve significantly. In Connor, we get an exact picture of Holtz. But because he is Angel’s son, the hunter’s morality he follows is like a knife in the gut for our poor protagonist. Like Angel, Connor acts in the interest of his idea of good, but morality isn’t so clear-cut in our world. To him Sunny was friendly and generous, so she was good. Tyke, her drug dealer, tried to hurt her and sold her something that killed her (the heroin), so he was bad. On the surface these are fair judgments, but the boy misses out on the deeper implications of moral responsibility.
I don’t think anyone will argue that Tyke wasn’t but a #######, but Sunny stole CD’s to try and buy heroin from him. When the opportunity was present, she just stole the heroin herself as well as some of his money. She’s more the engineer of her death than anyone, which is a fact Connor can’t recognize. She hinted at having issues with her parents which may have led her to run away, which again would’ve been her choice. That doesn’t mean everything is her fault mind you, but it means the situation is complicated. No one person is 100% responsible in most muck ups.
But like Tyke’s, Angel’s hand in any number of terrible things automatically spells complete culpability to Connor’s Holtzian mindset, and so he comes to blows with him. The emotionally charged scene where Angel makes a desperate plea from father to son is the episode’s bright, shining moment; this is his grown baby boy who’s lived and learned, and even though he was raised by his sworn enemy all Angel wants to do is hold him and hear about his life. When Connor so harshly rebukes him, it’s painful to watch. What’s even better is when Tyke actually tracks them down and puts Angel in a horrible position that is played for surprisingly effective suspense.
Tyke wants to take down Connor for making a trophy out of his ear, Connor wants to kill the hell out of Tyke, and Angel is left in the middle, worried that his son will get hurt or become a killer of human beings in his world. So how do you convince a hunter and a drug dealer that violence is not the answer when reason is not a concept that is practically useful to either of them? The episode’s answer is that you can’t explain reason to the unreasonable, you have to show them why it’s the better choice. Because when Angel saves Connor’s life, he makes the morally grey argument so compelling that in “Benediction” [3×21], Connor comes back to him despite his own reservations.
Some other things happen in the episode too, though not many of them are nearly as interesting as the main plot. I continue to care less and less about Cordelia and the Groosalug, though the fact that she seems to have to lie through her teeth even to herself now shows where the relationship is going. She’s starting to realize its shallowness compared to the power of her bond with Angel, and though she’s kind enough to try and reassure Groo, she’s barely selling it to anyone now.
And there is of course no forgetting the powerful scene between Lilah and Wesley, which will precipitate a long line of dirty liaisons between them. Unapologetically biting and intrusive as ever, she makes her own morality play: the completely amoral type. Wes, for his mistakes, has only his dignity left in his mind, and so he sees himself as above being able to work for an organization like Wolfram and Hart. Not that we the audience ever believe he could be led that far astray (at least for now, hehe), but a point she makes sticks in his mind, compounding further what he’s learned from his tragedy: he’s not the hero, and he may not even be too good for W&H.
I absolutely adored how deliciously Stephanie Romanov played up Lilah’s manipulative intent, as well as how she seemed to have a good grip on Wes’ basic character; what else to get to an ex-Watcher besides a book? Scenes of this power saved the episode from being a meandering bore like “Quickening” [3×08], but I must re-iterate how my frustration grows with S3 the longer I consider it. It definitely has its many positive qualities, but reviewing the season has made me realize just how uncomfortable the setup/payoff balance is in this 22 episode story. Looking forward we do have the excellent “Benediction” [3×21], but we also have the unfortunate (and designed to do even more setup) finale “Tomorrow” [3×22].
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordy’s powers of deus ex machina not working, and then hilariously not working.
+ Lilah not caring about whether or not she’s invited.
+ The delightfully odd Mistress Meerna.
– All of the fight-scene CGI was horribly done.
* Connor either runs from Angel or is directly offensive against him. This is telling of their entire relationship-to-be, which will have Connor torn between his life on Earth, his life in Quor’toth, and the moral dichotomy between the ‘father’ in each dimension.
* Wesley can’t accept that Lilah’s right, but he can’t quite call her wrong either. This becomes the attitude he holds towards their sexual tryst which begins sometime between S3 and S4. We first see it in “Deep Down” [4×01].