[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Greenwalt | Director: David Greenwalt | Aired: 05/20/2002]
“Tomorrow,” like S3’s premiere episode “Heartthrob” [3×01], in every way encapsulates what I both love and hate about S3. Here is an episode with extremely strong characterization for some of its players, and little or none for some others. It has powerful dramatic moments and some sharp, intensely written dialogue. It also lacks the thematic complexity of this series’ better episodes; not even major barnstormers like “Reprise” [2×15], but resonant, layered episodes like “Benediction” [3×21] or “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” [2×02]. In going for a gut punch, S3 has been negligent in massaging our minds as much as S2 did. But that’s more to be addressed in my comprehensive season review.
The major problem with the season finale, besides the fact that it is way too tepid to be a season finale, is the sheer, stunning contrivance of one of its major plot decisions. Swooping Cordy’s fate up off the Earth at so random a time and place, and for seemingly no good reason other than to deprive our principle characters of happiness, just plain pissed me off. I see the basic dramatic merit in it, and knowing what I know of the PTB’s plans in S4 I understand why it was done, but that doesn’t save it in my eyes. It is so out of the blue that it’s insulting.
Ellen Sandler, a sitcom writer, once used a Hebrew saying to highlight one of the key principles of writing fiction: “Mah Nish Ta Nah.” A question asked during the Passover seder, it means: “why is this night different from all other nights?” When a writer generates an event, they must ask ‘why’ in a very specific fashion. They must justify an event’s exact place in the chronology of the story in order not to make us question the plausibility of the event. Cordelia’s ascension, considering the reasons given for its timing, could’ve happened at any point in the series after “Birthday” [3×11]. Skip told her as much when he said that the Powers That Be have chosen her to be a higher being because of her courage.
Cordelia chose to keep the visions, become half-demon, and fight alongside Angel to help the helpless. Since Skip tells Angel Investigations that Cordy becoming half-demon was a necessary event in “Inside Out” [4×17], he solidifies the assertion that any time after “Birthday” [3×11], in which Cordy was made half-demon, would’ve been fine in the powers’ eyes to bring Cordelia up to their level. So when she began to ascend I found myself sick at the contrived nature of it all. The Whedonverse often likes to heap suffering on its characters; Whedon and Co, not unwisely, believe that suffering builds human character. Moreover they choose to highlight suffering in their writing because unlike cowardly TV programs, they realize that real life contains it. A lot of it.
But at answering the Mah Nish Ta Nah for this twist, the episode fails miserably. It was done only – only – to compound the cliffhanger situation, and to further cause pain and suffering for the characters. One might almost call it needless. And I am not a fan of violence, or any other horrible thing, being artificially generated for dramatic effect. This problem loses the episode a great deal of points; I’ve already spent almost half the average length of a review talking about it. But “Tomorrow” does have some strong material; the Connor storyline could’ve merited this episode an 80 without this one main problem in the way.
When last we left Connor, he’d found Holtz’s body and concluded that Angelus was to blame. Holtz’s suicide, which Justine helped make him look like a murder at the hands of Angel, poisoned Connor against his biological father. In an act I called evil on the grounds of being totally devoid of anything loving, Holtz took Connor’s empty, clean-slate mindset – his chance to start over fresh in our world – and used it to drive a hatred of Angel even deeper into the boy. The most interesting part of this episode begins with Connor’s death-glare at the end of the teaser: He wants to do much more than just kill Angel.
Despite most of the main storyline with Connor and Angel being way too light both in terms of thematic complexity and dramatic intensity (damn I sound pompous!), the dark undercurrent to it makes even the happiest scenes intriguing to watch. In contrast to much of S4, Connor is a fascinating character here. As he desecrates Holtz’s body, he promises to hold true to what he’s been taught: to protect good and vanquish evil, which means ‘destroy Angel’ in his black-and-white mind. So fundamental are these beliefs to Connor that he doesn’t hesitate for a moment to chop the man he believes to be his father into pieces, since he was ‘bitten’ by a ‘vampire’ and could rise again.
When he went to the Hyperion and asked to be trained, I found myself thinking ‘game on.’ And yet, Vincent Kartheiser as Connor again impresses me with his subtle use of body language throughout the episode to intensify the uncertainty. Every compliment, every gesture and every scrap of good will towards Angel is a lie; this much the story insists on. Yet one can’t help but wonder what’s really going to happen, and Kartheiser sells that all on his own. There is one moment in the episode that stands completely on its own: when Angel takes him to a drive in movie and we can see wonder etched on his face.
Is it a sense of discovery, something joyous he’s found in this new world? Maybe. But what they watch is an action film in which good is ‘good,’ evil is ‘evil’ and men are ‘men.’ The stereotypical action film features men who kill coldly and with no afterthought, so perhaps that’s where Connor connected to it. It’s an excellent scene to think on. Meanwhile, Angel has never been happier, and is so aglow in his joy that he has no idea that when he trains his son, he’s training the boy how to beat him. He has never been happier in the entire run of this series, and it shows as he hums, whistles and smiles his way through the hour.
When Lorne tells him that his affection for Cordelia is truly a shared thing as his parting gift, it seems as though all the stars are at last aligned for our central character. This is when Connor decides to make his move. Unlike the plot twist in Cordelia’s plot, this is a logical time and place for the story to swerve. Connor, who has been able to bury his grief and even feign befriending the creature he believes killed someone he cared for, picks the moment that could represent perfect happiness for Angel to drag him down. Literally. He even said he wanted to be like Angel, who he sees as a cold-blooded killer.
The final scenes of the season, for the flaws of this episode, left me filled with wonder and a desire to see what comes next. Since what comes next is the fantastic episode “Deep Down” [4×01], that’s an especially good thing. The fight between Connor and Angel is painful to watch, and it choked me up to see Angel forgiving his son even as he prepared to tie his father’s fate to a very ghastly resting place. A permanent, water-logged grave is truly a devious and terrifying punishment for someone who can live forever. In a sequence fit for a better episode, Connor and Justine sink Angel to the bottom of the ocean in the hopes of squelching their grief.
Justine is pure hatred over the loss of her friend – the pain she’s chained herself to – and Connor is pure tragedy, and they both get what they need to move on by depriving the world of a good person; it’s unsettling to watch. The season ends on Gunn and Fred, who’ll no doubt be wondering what the hell they’re supposed to do tomorrow now that everyone’s gone. In contrast, Wesley makes it entirely clear in an incredible pair of scenes where he’s going: nowhere that has anything to do with his old friends, because he’s done with Angel Investigations. Bonus points for this line: “I wasn’t thinking about you when you were here.”
It’s kind of sad to think that this is David Greenwalt’s last episode on the show as a writer or a showrunner. From S4 on he would not be a part of it at all. Likewise, I mourn the loss of Cordelia, who, because her character is body-jacked by Jasmine in S4, will technically not be seen again until “You’re Welcome” [5×12], in which she actually dies. Her resolution to the season makes me angry, even if it seems like a semi-logical endpoint for a woman who’s made the ultimate transition from irreconcilable material #####, to a truly selfless champion. Letting go of her shallow relationship with the Groosalug was the last step.
Again there’s also the problem of Fred, Gunn and Lorne being vastly underused (I’m of the opinion that after leaving in this episode, he should’ve stayed gone), and designing yet another episode to be setup for more things to come. There’s been way too many of those episodes this season. Regardless, it’s still been an interesting one, and I look forward to the next. See you there.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Wesley’s continuing downslide.
+ Angel whistling, and later humming.
+ Fred and her popcorn.
+ Gunn and Angel on Linwood not being human.
+ Fred poking Angel with the stake. “Not perfectly happy, I hope!”
– The Phantom Cordelia. What the hell? Really, uh, what the hell?
– More stupidity from Wolfram and Hart.
– Everything – everything – to do with Cordelia’s ascension. Especially the cheesy effects. Ech to it all. Ech. Ech. Ech.
* Connor targets Angel out of grief over Holtz’s death, claiming to serve ‘good’ and wanting to vanquish ‘evil.’ This viewpoint is affirmed in “Deep Down” [4×01], in which we see that he’s stayed with Fred and Gunn at the hotel and has actually bonded with them.
* Wesley is thoroughly done with Angel Investigations, and even when invited back by Angel in “Ground State” [4×02], he refuses, only coming back when he’s pulled in by Fred and an impending apocalypse (“Supersymmetry” [4×05] and “Apocalypse, Nowish” [4×07] respectively).