Angel 4×01: Deep Down

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Steven S. DeKnight | Director: Terence O’Hara | Aired: 10/06/2002]

“Kind of an M.C. Escher perspective…”Angel

“Deep Down” is an episode relentless in its portrayal of a landscape made bleak by the absence of its hero. For all the flaws of the season three finale “Tomorrow” [3×22] , the situation it promised our protagonists was rife with intriguing darkness. Season four’s premiere is testament to AtS being the kind of show that keeps its promises. Things have gone to hell at Angel Investigations; Gunn and Fred are completely in the dark, stretching themselves thin as they struggle to uphold the business while searching for Angel. Wesley has been firmly cleaved from the group and seems intent upon embracing that separation. Meanwhile Connor is holding the hand-basket that took them all there. Not that anyone would know it, of course; seemingly guiltless, he soaks in Fred and Gunn’s affections even as he deceives them.

This is an episode loaded with riveting moral conflicts. How do you move on from a devastating loss when you have nothing left but pain? And say the need to forgive and forget is so overwhelming that you manage to do so. What then? Where do you go from there? And how do you live with forgiving someone who has betrayed you, especially when they might do so again? While AtS has never been the kind of show to shy away from dark questions, never before have all the answers seemed like devils bargains. Never before have the wrong people seemed so right. See how Justine talks sense to Wes. Watch how Lilah cuts through the ######## (figuratively and literally!). The whole episode is such an uncompromising display of how people can fail in the face of their own suffering that it never fails to stun me anew.

It’s a welcome return to form from season three, which favoured emotion-laden gut-punches over the more philosophically agile kind of storytelling that propelled seasons one and two. “Deep Down” is just a taste of season four’s labyrinthine complexity. If its sprawling, season-long plotline fails in places, it fails only due to over-extension; the entire season is one big gamble that attempts to pay-off everything that came before it. And I mean everything. Darla, Connor, Cordelia, fate, destiny, the prophecies and the Powers That Be. All of it. Everything.

I don’t know how specifically the writers devised the overarching framework of the show, but their attempt to bring everything full circle is as impressive in its ambition as it is provocative in its insistence upon challenging the audience with its conclusions. If you think we actually have free will, for instance, watch, and think again.

What makes “Deep Down” so compelling is the sheer head-crushing depth of the moral conflicts it presents. There are few things more relevant to the human experience than the question of what the “right thing” is for any given situation. Stories about morality, well executed, tap the deepest wells of emotion and sometimes, with a bit of luck, the brainiest ideas about what “the right thing” even means. When the wrong thing starts to seem right for a character on a show as smart as this you just know you’re in for some shenanigans.

We open on Fred and Gunn in the first act. To say they’re outmatched by their problems would win you an award for understatement. Not only are leads on Angel and Cordy coming up short, but Gunn and Fred fallen inadvertently into the role of Connor’s surrogate parents. Raising a teenager is tough enough when he isn’t the offspring of two vampires and the hidden source of all your misery. Never mind the bills and the lack of paying clients; being able to take care of those issues would be a luxury now. Fred and Gunn struggle just to run on empty, and their frustration is palpable.

Then there’s Connor. One of the more interesting choices the writers made in contriving the post-Angel landscape for this episode was in not sending him off on his own, but making him part of a new family unit with Fred and Gunn. His decision to shack up with them after betraying Angel provides insight into just what an ordinary teenager he really is, despite his inter-dimensional baggage and cosmic destiny. He needs to fill the hole left by Holtz’s death, and he needs boundaries to test, and a stable household to come home to. But like any other kid, his boundary testing always comes at the expense of his guardians, and this adds to the weight on Fred and Gunn’s shoulders.

When you think about the whole series up to this point, everyone on this show has suffered some pretty awful stuff over the years. The grand point, it seems, is that the world is harsh and cruel, and it turns all of us to dark thoughts at one time or another. The variable between us is the way we deal with this fact.

Fred deals it with it rather poorly. When she finds out what Connor did to Angel, she turns to deceit and violence almost unnervingly fast. It’s not just about neutralizing Connor as a threat either; she’s so consumed by rage that she tazes him again after he’s been tied up. “All these months,” she gasps, horrified, “you knew.” She wants to hurt him for that. Gunn relishes Angel’s coming return: “That’s right, sparky. Daddy’s coming home, and I’m guessing there’s gonna be a whooping.” Even if we agree with the general sentiment here (and I’m guessing a large majority of the AtS audience, which hates Connor, does), we have to stop and look at the impulse. It’s violent, and it’s ugly.

When Angel forgives Connor, it’s a reminder of why he’s the “champion.” Throughout the series Angel probably experiences more pain most other characters in the Whedonverse put together. He lost Buffy, spent eternity in hell, lost her again, moved to LA, started a new life, and lost again: Doyle, Darla, Connor, Cordelia. Here’s a guy for whom living must be a daily chore, and yet he soldiers on. His ultimate realization is that the world is harsh and irredeemably cruel no matter what he does; the value of champions then, is in setting an example for others by embodying the mere possibility of a better world. He forgives Connor merely to live up to that example, even in spite of the violent impulses deep inside of him.

But there are limits to his moral triumph. The fact that he could even consider killing his son is a disturbing turn for him. What I find most revealing about the way he confronted Connor at the end is that he put the point of no return squarely before Cordelia, rather than some principle or general course of action. Had Connor admitted wrong-doing towards her, I have no doubt Angel would have killed him.

This got me thinking about what I said about Angel in my review of “Lullaby” [3×09]. He came to realize that redemption was ultimately unattainable, following from his earlier realization in “Epiphany” [2×16] that working towards too big an objective was a recipe for failure. He’s been a day-to-day, means-over-ends kind of guy ever since. Seems like a good way to live, but at the same time that very transformation laid the foundations for a backslide that begins right here.

Without faith in the attainability of redemption, and failing to see any finite end to his immortal life of suffering, Angel has started shrinking into a defensive position where his primary concern is the welfare of his family at Angel Investigations. Season four features a slow erosion of Angel’s will to help the helpless in the grand scheme of things, and his conflict in this episode between doing the right thing and giving into his own impulses – with his impulses very nearly winning – casts the shadow that shapes his deal with Wolfram and Hart in the season finale “Home” [4×22].

Throughout “Deep Down” our heroes are smacked with difficult truths about the ugliness and brutality of the world, and the choice must fall to them to accept the world and run with the cruelty it inspires, or reject it and strive for something better. The theme of choice is a dividing line that runs right down the episode. On the one side you have Angel, who takes the high road by rejecting the world-as-it-is, even if he acknowledges its influence over his actions. Yes, the world is cruel, but it need not be. We need only live as though the world were better than it is. It may be a self-imposed delusion on Angel’s part, but when the truth does nothing but hurt, is it worth its weight as a principle?

On the other side of the line you have Wesley, who accepts the cruelty and brutality of the world. He’s become the perfect anti-Angel in that regard. He’s an ends-over-means kinda guy, which means he does whatever it takes to get the job done. He still fights demons, and he spends the entirety of the episode fighting to rescue Angel, but at the end of the day he holds to philosophical and moral differences that set him starkly apart from his old friends. What he lacks now is the delusional thinking that made him play the hero to such disastrous results. The rock-bottom he hit in late season three was such an overwhelming wake up call that it forced him to make a choice: he could either let pain overrun his life, or he could simply accept himself, warts and all.

Justine’s taunts wound him, but only superficially. He knows she’s right; the pain of his failure and loss of love from his friends still causes him daily anguish. But at the same time he has simply and unspectacularly come to terms with who he is. Note his body language: he has the measured walk and hundred-yard-stare of a man whose mind is peaceful with certainty. Alexis Denisof’s subtle tweaking of the way he plays Wesley produces a believable result. This is a changed man.

You have to feel sorry for Justine, who certainly hasn’t changed. It seems that in life that there are some people who are more comfortable being told what to do by somebody else, and she’s one of them. Now that it’s Wes telling her what to do she has yet another convenient target for her rage. His weird enslavement of her also says something about his blooming capacity for doing whatever a mission requires (such as going all the way with Lilah while Justine listens from her cage in the closet. Creepy, or…creepy?). But in a moment of twisted kinship, he offers Justine her freedom and some insight: “You can continue to be a slave, or you can life your life. Your choice.”

If there’s one thing that diminishes my enjoyment of “Deep Down” it’s that the episodes following it pale in comparison. The season is too quick to re-establish the show’s old dynamic and restore a sense of normalcy. Why stop piling on the layers of deceit and intrigue when you could thoroughly explore each one of them? I could see at least four or five episodes coming out of an Angel-less AtS. But I suppose David Boreanaz had a contract. And a lawyer.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Lorne’s consistency in bashing his family: “so long as it’s not my mother!”
+ Fred with wrist-mounted stakes! These are just awesome on anyone, but on the lovely Amy Acker? Very yes.
+ Lilah and Gavin still totally hating each other.
+ Wesley pulling the knife on Justine: “Oh, screw you!”
+ Linwood finally doing something useful by dying.

– Wesley and Justine’s “banter” during their first scene together on the boat. This is some seriously bad exposition. I understand the need to get lapsed viewers up to speed on complex events they might have missed, but having characters spit out a re-cap like they’re reading a script is not good writing, writers! Bad writers!
– Spanish stereotyping. I see it extends even to vampires now! “Esse,” “homie,” “hermano.” Come on. Most major TV is made in LA, which is chalk-full of Mexican immigrants and other Spanish-speakers. You would think the writers would know a few who weren’t complete caricatures.


* An interesting little thing happens during Connor and Angel’s confrontation: Connor obeys Angel’s order to sit down and listen. Some part of Connor acknowledges Angel’s authority as his father in this moment. Being of such a conflicted mind about his demonic parentage and what it means about the kind of person he is drives Connor’s identity crisis throughout the season.
* Lilah takes Wesley’s word when he tells her he knows nothing about Angel. The fact that she trusts him at all means even at this early point their relationship goes beyond sex. Something in Lilah respects Wes, and this may be part of why they later grow to care for each other.
* Gunn is forced by his leadership role to be more forward thinking when it comes to searching for Angel, while Wesley is forced by his failures to take more decisive, outward action. This role reversal of their old personas will bring them into conflict throughout the season.
* Cordelia is barely present this episode. ‘Nuff said.




57 thoughts on “Angel 4×01: Deep Down”

  1. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on May 20, 2009.]

    Ryan, welcome back! And I applaud your decision to start S4 again, this review is excellent.
    I just wanna say that this episode totally caught me by surprise as well as this whole season. I love this season because it takes risks, it´s dark and completely riveting. Though flawed, I still think this is so much greater than S3.

    Again, excellent review and can´t wait for your next one.


  2. [Note: Arouet posted this comment on May 23, 2009.]

    I preferred your more optimistic analysis of this episode the first time you reviewed it, but I will admit this is very good. You don’t seem to place much weight on “We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be” anymore. Now you seem to think of it as just a little cry in the vast darkness now, and not the passionate, powerful defiance that I thought it was, and you believed it was, when you wrote your first review.


  3. [Note: Arouet posted this comment on May 23, 2009.]

    And while you have to give them points for bravery in the way that they spun everything that had happened before this season together, I think it was detrimental to the overall story. It cheapens Darla’s sacrifice and Holtz’s tragedy by arguing that it wasn’t really their choice.

    And for all the reckless bravery of the writers during this season the way they botched Orpheus and the Angelus arc in general remains inexcusable, and possibly cowardly.


  4. [Note: Rick posted this comment on May 24, 2009.]

    I am in agreement that the Angelus arc is indeed cowardly, and most definitely the biggest flaw of the entire series. The fact that the entire notion of ambiguity and self-accountability so central to the series was thrown out to support a plot threat that really didn’t matter is really quite insulting. I am of course referring to Angelus being distinct from Angel so that we can posit each as having a separate memory. Sigh. Terrible writing. Reminds me of Heroes, actually.


  5. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on May 25, 2009.]

    Exactly, i was just thinkin’ that, it reminds me of Heroes, what a shame! a better Heroes of course because I can’t really say Angel is Heroes-y, eh! However, it goes everywhere, and mostly nowhere, with this arc but i can’t neither say it’s completely unuseful like almost all arcs in Heroes. Damn it! I wanted Angelus so bad! (not in THAT way!^^)and I got him. But “it was wrong”! nonetheless, some things were pretty cool like the Faith arc.

    So, that’s actually the first review I read for Angel, and I guess I have to read them all now since they are this good!

    And, like I say in the Buffy reviews, sorry for my french accent (that means all the grammar errors!)


  6. [Note: Rick posted this comment on May 25, 2009.]

    Je t’excuserai si tu excuse ma grammaire francaise! Je voudrais apprendre le francais completement, mais c’est une objective difficile dans une ville anglaise! Ou habites-tu, DarthMarion? Le Quebec?


  7. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on May 26, 2009.]

    Génial! du français!

    I live in the dear and old France! So learning english isn’t that easy! However I guess it’s easier in my case, with all the tv shows in original version (I’m convinced Buffy teached me 50% of my english! …yeah, that’s an excuse to see the episodes again and again, and an excuse I use for my parents to make my sister watch them again and again)and all the american influence!


  8. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on May 26, 2009.]

    @buffyholic Thanks for the warm welcome.

    @Arouet I don’t think you’re wrong in saying that this review comes off as less optimistic than my first go-round. The difference is in how I approach the story. Rather than take sides and make big, sweeping comments about how Angel is Just and Connor is Evil and Wesley is a Moral Backslider (which sounds vaguely kinky when you word it that way, actually), I decided to start backing off and simply account for what is. What the episode is itself. Punch me in my pretentious existentialism if you will. I’ll still review! ;)Arouet


  9. [Note: Arouet posted this comment on June 7, 2009.]

    Well there’s a season to be subtle and let the plot cover the ideas of the story with a bedsheet and then there’s a season to be open and aggressive and passionate, and one of the reasons I loved this show so much was that it knew when to stop being subtle and gentle and just let us listen to Angel trying to struggle with the meaning of his experiences. Reprise and Epiphany made nothing BUT big sweeping statements about humanity and evil and goodness, and those two and Deep Down are IMO, the best three episodes of the entire series(cept maybe Lullaby, Darla, and The Prodigal). Sometimes it takes more courage to come out and let the characters speak when you’re afraid of sounding preachy than it is to restrain yourself when you want to preach.

    Even if they let the characters be themselves, you can’t deny that the writers were obviously using them to illustrate specific examples of different philosophies. Angel IS just. Connor IS being pragmatic to the point of having the same actions as an evil person. Wesley IS succumbing to the same logic that dominates Connor, that seeking real justice is the luxury of those who do not suffer. The fact that it is so openly a parable is precisely what makes it so great.


  10. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on June 12, 2009.]

    Don’t make the mistake of interchanging presumption with passion, Arouet. The more viscerally thrilling review may indeed be perched upon a soapbox, instructing the masses in vague constructions about what justice “really is,” but I’ll bet you that’s not the more truthful review.

    My goal here is simple: to draw out the meanings and ideas of the episode as I see them so that the reader gets the most out of what I found in that episode. Since this is pretty much an opinion column extraordinaire I can’t really get away from opinion or claim zero bias, but I try to constrain my opinions to the construction of the episode as a piece of fiction. I have opinions about justice, but I’m not going to presume to tell anyone else what justice is for them. That’s up to them. That’s up to you. To you, Angel is Just. To someone else he is a bastard. To me, he is a character in this story.


  11. [Note: Arouet posted this comment on June 16, 2009.]

    My point was only that in this review you made this episode sound more subtle than it really was, and that its lack of subtlety was its strength.

    And you can say all you want that you placed your own opinions upon the interpretation of Deep Down, but even if that was true, then your opinions coincided so much with what the episode was trying to argue for that your “preaching” was indistinguishable from your dead-on analysis of the new morality of Angel that dominates this season, and to a lesser extent season 5.

    I promise you I would have enjoyed my first gothrough of Season 4 a lot less if I hadn’t read your clarifying comment “To be good is to do the right thing in spite of what you want” that gave me the framework to understand what the writers were trying to do with the whole season. You were right the first time.

    And I’m not trying to take you down here! I never would have bought the first two seasons on DVD if I hadn’t stumbled upon this site (I’d watched Buffy but never Angel before). I see this show primarily on an intellectual level, like you, and I agree with pretty much all of your opinions except your overall reviews of Season 3 (I tend to judge whole story arcs primarily by their best moments and not their filler) and S5 (a whoooooooole ‘nother story).


  12. [Note: Emily posted this comment on June 21, 2009.]

    Great review, Ryan! You’ve said in previous reviews that we don’t see the real Cordelia again after “Tomorrow” [3×22]- but isn’t the higher-being-Cordelia that we see at the end of this episode *actually* Cordelia?

    Oh, and just trying to tip the scales here- I *love* Connor!


  13. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on February 6, 2010.]

    “I’ll take away your bucket.” I had to smile at this line.

    I liked the family dynamic between Gunn, Fred and Connor in this episode. The way he still feels good when being told what to do by Gunn as it’s a family unit, until he does the teenager thing and talks back.

    The excited look on Connors face when he is given permission to go with Fred and Gunn to see the vampire. Just like a little kid.

    Really good start to the season…too bad it pretty much goes to hell after a bit.


  14. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on February 6, 2010.]

    And, forgot about Gunn trying to tell Fred that she can’t say things like, “Word” and other words that are used mainly by black people. C’mon, it might sound funny but there are no off limit words for different races.


  15. [Note: Enaj posted this comment on May 18, 2010.]

    Actually, I think the distinction wasn’t between “black” and “white” with regards to Fred not being able to say certain words. I think it was more between “ghetto” and “not ghetto.” Words and phrases like “word” and “bro” aren’t exactly *restricted* to those of the African-American persuasion. I’ve been around a lot of black people who were raised in the suburbs who sound *ridiculous* when they try to work the “street talk,” and it’s funny as hell. And I’ve been around a lot of white people who were raised in the “not so good” part of town who you’d probably mistake for black with your eyes closed. It was funny and weird to hear Fred try and say stuff like that not because she is white, but because she’s a very sweet, somewhat sheltered, country girl.

    I do agree that there should be no “off-limit” words for different races, but I don’t know if I like the assumption that that was the point of the joke, or the implication that only black people speak that way.

    Honestly, though, I kind of hate the way they treat the entire “street” section of Angel (ie; Gunn, his entire crew, and even most of the kids from that homeless shelter). They try to play up the ghetto angle entirely too much and it’s a bit cringe-inducing, especially when most of the actors they use on the show to play these supposedly *tough* street kids (like J. August Richards) were raised in the suburbs and are pretty obviously not all that comfortable talking “ghetto.”


  16. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on August 29, 2010.]

    Great, great episode. My favorite part had to be Lilah cutting off Linwood’s head. I did not see that coming.


  17. [Note: Ozzie posted this comment on October 10, 2011.]

    I Couldn’t agree more G1000 iv always hated Linwood .. he agitates me like hell and who ever played him either did a terrible job or he was meant to be this annoying


  18. [Note: SueB posted this comment on December 6, 2011.]

    It really was a complex episode. And I agree with your statement that Angel viewed Connor’s continued existence completely dependent upon whether or not he hurt Cordy.

    I found Angel’s toss of Connor around all season kindof disturbing but absolutely accurate. We DO turn into our parents in some instances. Angel was raise in 17-something Ireland. Corporal punishment as required for out-of-line kids. On the one hand he can be very evolved but he slides backwards when it comes to Connor. All the Father/Son issues are RIGHT THERE. Also the whole beat-the-crap-out-of-vampires business. He beats the crap out of Spike for fun in S5. It’s like vampire-protocol. But Connor ISN’T a vampire. He may have strength but this is his father tossing him about like trash. And to throw him out onto the street? I realize Connor survived a hell dimension but Angel shows he’s not paying attention to the big picture when it comes to his son IMO.

    Connor is a seriously damaged person. He’s messed up in the head. Connor’s willingness to dispense justice was a frightening example of the life he lead. The world (as Angel pointed out in Benediction) doesn’t work that way. And Connor absolutely deserved a consequence for his twisted solution. Killing Angel out of revenge would (IMO) fit what Angel would expect. Torturing Angel with starvation/hallucinations/potential brain damage was all kinds of wrong. But, just tossing him out into the dog-eat-dog streets of LA? I don’t buy that as a solid redemption approach. Exactly what is Connor to learn from the thieves/homeless/junkies/whores/crazies? Is Connor to learn that if he wants to be part of a family he has to be obedient to Angel? I thought tossing him around kindof proved that. Plus he DID sit when told to sit. I don’t know.

    I DO know that at the end of the season when Lilah says being raised by Angel is what made Connor postal, I had to kind of agree that Angel really DID screw up the Father/Son relationship. Deep Down shows the second misstep (the first being the lie in Benediction) of many IMO.


  19. [Note: Dave posted this comment on November 11, 2012.]

    What’s with the racial talk? Gunn told her to stop it because she sounds stupid saying it. Simple as. The Angel-visions were a little OTT, imo.


  20. [Note: Dave posted this comment on December 31, 2012.]

    I think my favourite part of this episode is when Wesley feeds Angel his own blood, preceeded by the line “Your blood is too thin.” It doesn’t just feel like a put down for Justine, but Wes’ way of saying that not only is he willing to bleed for Angel, but he is, quite literally, giving Angel his life for what he’d done.


  21. [Note: Mike posted this comment on July 9, 2013.]

    I rewatched this episode last night, and I have to say I’d add Fred’s violent behaviour towards Connor as foreshadowing for what’s coming in “Supersymmetry”. She’s already getting her vengeance on here and it’s only going to get worse.

    This episode is excellent. I only have a couple of nitpicks: the vampire spider-crawling up the wall (since when can they do that?) and the dream sequence with Angel and Connor. Seemed like a bit of a wasted opportunity considering it’s just a fight with some random vampires and not really anything new or memorable.


  22. [Note: B posted this comment on November 1, 2014.]

    I think season four of Angel is very similar to the sixth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Both are dark and complicated. I love both seasons. I don’t understand the hatred these seasons receive from fans and critics. Both seasons tell darkly, depressing stories that are season long. This episode is great. I enjoyed it and it set the tone for the rest of the season. My only complaint with the fourth season of Angel is Cordy. If wish she had reverted back to her normal self after Jasmine’s birth and vanquished her. Joss Whedon did the character and actress a disservice. They both deserved better. I can’t believe the man who created Buffy, a feminist icon, mistreated his leading lady. He even basically said she wasn’t the shows leading lady!!! Buddy’s sixth season while flawed is still better than any other television series that was produced while it was airing and since. I stand by my statement that the writing team Joss assembled is his only real accomplishment. Sure, he wrote some of the best episodes of both zeroes but he mistreated his leading ladies, especially Sarah and Charisma! I don’t get it! I think this is the reason his fan base rejected Firefly and Dollhouse. It took ten years for him to regain the trust of his fans with The Avengers. Agents of Shield is horrible. I can’t believe Joss is involved which further proof that the Mutant Enemy writer team deserves the credit Joss gets or at least some of it. Marti Noxon took Buffy where it needed to go and she wrote some of the best episodes of the series.


  23. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 1, 2014.]

    [Joss Whedon] mistreated his leading ladies, especially Sarah and Charisma [and] I think this is the reason his fan base rejected Firefly and Dollhouse

    I hardly think that we can attribute the failures of firefly and Dollhouse to anger or disgust on part of the fans for how Whedon treated Carpenter and Cordelia in season four. First of all, it’s wrong to claim that his fan base “rejected” firefly because they did anything but; they watched it, loved it, supported it, went into uproar when it was cancelled, funded a multi-million dollar movie and became so big and obnoxious that they even got their own name, the Browncoats. While Buffy had many legions of devoted fans, it can be argued that of all his shows firefly is the one that inspired the most reverence. The cancellation of that show can only be attributed to FOX.

    Dollhouse, meanwhile, doomed itself without needing any help from the fans. It’s lead characters were unsympathetic and largely undeveloped for much of the first season, the first five episodes were poorly plotted and repetitive, Dushku’s acting was not enough for what she was required to do … Need I go on? It’s a good show, on occasion a great one, but as it was airing it must have been an incredibly inconsistent and frustrating experience. I think FOX were generous in allowing it two seasons and the fans, although perhaps more jaded than they used to be because of how ignominiously Buffy went out (waves at Mike), were generally quite kind to the show.

    And as far as I know Whedon has very little involvement in the disaster that is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..


  24. [Note: Zarnium posted this comment on November 1, 2014.]

    I’ve heard before that Joss’ character assassination of Cordelia was due to some behind the scenes squabble between him and Charisma Carpenter, but I’ve never heard of him mistreating Sarah before. Could you elaborate?


  25. [Note: B posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    She(SMG) made comments that at the start of season seven she had a conversation with Joss about the seventh season being the last and that they should announce it but they didn’t and she made comments that she was overworked and that during the sixth season when he was barely involved she asked him to change the direction that she didn’t agree with where the writers were taking her character and she was ignored and he did make the comments about Charisma not being a leading lady when she was the female lead for four season on Angel he got all defensive and even ended some interviews if Firefly had such a strong following why didn’t the numbers match the numbers Buffy and Angel pulled in because the show was a mess and Joss used all his attention and left the other series that he’ll be remembered for in the hands of his talented writing staff think Angel and Darla!


  26. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    Eh. If I were a writer and an actress came to me complaining about the direction of her character, I’d take her remarks under consideration, but the creative vision comes from the showrunner and it would have been wrong of Whedon to change season six just because Gellar was personally dissatisfied with it.


  27. [Note: Zach posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    Uh just want to make clear on a few things.

    1. Joss Whedon did not want to pursue the storyline that essentially ruined Cordelia’s character arc. Charisma was pregnant and didn’t tell Joss and team until last minute, obviously the writers were pissed that she didn’t tell them, this made for some last minute changes in which we got S4’s arc.

    2. The fanbase of his other works had nothing to do with your perceived claim

    3. He isn’t involved with Agents of Shield, he wrote the pilot episode…He has no other involvement.

    4. Agents of Shield isn’t horrible (at least, not anymore)

    5. Concurring with Freudian Vampire, it’s not mistreating to dismiss your actors complaints about the storyline, which is his story…not SMG’s, it is Joss’s creative vision

    6. Most of the ‘best’ episodes that weren’t written by Whedon, were actually written by Whedon (at least partially) (Conversations with Dead People; Passion, etc)


  28. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    Actually, the situation with Joss and Cordelia’s character about Angel season four was pretty ugly, and Charisma Carpenter has claimed in interviews that she was intentionally badly written and destroyed before her character’s death and that Whedon promised her that Cordy would survive “You’re Welcome” and then killed her anyway. I’m with you regarding all your other points (although I do think Shield is still horrible) but there’s good, solid evidence to suggest bad play in Whedon’s role in the writing out of Cordelia.


  29. [Note: Zach posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    “Charisma Carpenter has claimed in interviews that she was intentionally badly written and destroyed before her character’s death” woah really? Do you have a link for that perhaps?

    And yes now that you mention it I do recall Charisma on a panel stating that they promised they wouldn’t kill her, and then they did :(, that is pretty F’ed up, they both made mistakes but I also saw somewhere that they settled there feud.

    As far as Agents of Shield, I think you hand out “horrible” much easier than I do…except…apparently to Fargo haha.

    I don’t think it’s a great show by any means, but I am interested in it, and I am starting to like the characters, also I absolutely thought the plot twist in Turn, Turn, Turn was awesome.


  30. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    Not off the top of my head, but I seem to recall a “Best Seasons of Angel Thread” with links to a variety of Charisma Carpenter on panels. Ask Monica about it 😉


  31. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    And I don’t think I hand out ‘horrible’ easier than anyone here. Remember, when I’m arguing Buffy is worse than The Sopranos it’s a criticism of one show but also praise for another; if you look at it through another lens, I’m the one being positive.


  32. [Note: Zarnium posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    I’d have to know more about the exact situation to be certain, but generally, I have to agree with Zach and Freudian about Sarah; the writing of the show is the domain of the writers, not the actors. I’d hardly say that taking a character in a direction the actor doesn’t want it to go is “mistreatment.”


  33. [Note: Zach posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    I just meant I don’t think you have seen horrible television if that’s your idea of horrible television.

    Perhaps your good at avoiding it, but I have had the pleasure of watching certain shows that are beyond dreadful…Even if some of them aren’t really in the drama category, there are shows that stick out as especially terrible…

    AHEM Jersey Shore


  34. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    Oh, definitely. I had this conversation with some others here on Jeremy’s article about the struggles of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where I said I never watched any real bad television (I’m excellent at avoiding it) and so Shield was the worst I’d ever seen because it’s the worst I’d ever watch for more than three and a half milliseconds.


  35. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    Under no definition of “horrible” I know should SHIELD be considered so anymore. It started out quite poor — even so, more of a boring “shrug” than something offensively bad — but has, since late Season 1, turned into, at worst, an average show and, at best, a decent, fun one. It seems a bit odd that you can’t recognize the clear improvement in its quality, despite apparently having seen some of the more recent stuff.

    (Or have you? Is your opinion based solely on the earlier parts of Season 1? If so, then your comments make more sense.)


  36. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    Ah. Being in the UK and having not been paying attention to the show, I was unaware the second season had started. I quit after “Turn, Turn, Turn” because I had grown so disillusioned with the show.


  37. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    And that’s the point in the show where it begins to actually become fun to watch. 😉

    I don’t blame you for not wanting to invest any time in the show — it’s not among the best out there, even now (imho). But a show to kick back and have a bit of fun with? It’s finally realizing that goal.


  38. [Note: Noah posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    It’s remarkable how credulous people become at the hint of scandal. So Charisma Carpenter says that Joss punished her by destroying her character. First of all, that’s one side of a story, and we don’t have the other side because Joss (rightly) refuses to talk about it. Second, Cordelia’s character was never destroyed, so if he tried to do that it didn’t work. Third, if Whedon’s people intentionally misled her about her character living through “You’re Welcome”, then that was wrong, but as a writer I do know that sometimes you get the ideas at the last minute. It’s entirely possible that they intended to have Cordelia survive, but Joss was inspired at the last minute. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what happened, and I’m kind of tired of people assuming that they do know. Whedon and Carpenter are both very good at what they do, and that’s all that bears on the quality of the show. Which, in this episode at least, is very high.


  39. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    None of what we’re saying affects how we perceive the quality of the show; however, it does change the way I feel about Joss Whedon.

    Personally, I find it very easy to take Charisma Carpenter at her word, largely because there have been reports from other sources and actors that Joss is a difficult man to work with, and that fits with how I see him too. Consider how he utterly disowns every work he is involved with that is badly received. The Buffy film, regardless of how it was directed and cast, was poorly scripted. He refuses to accept any blame over Alien Resurrection despite that all the actors and the director were both well-regarded and highly competent. He seems to believe that Dollhouse‘s cancellation was a result of something other than the fact that it was a sub-par show that was allowed a second season only out of FOX’s generosity. Whedon is a strong writer and I enjoy his works a great deal, but I have large amounts of scepticism about how well he handles the behind-the-scenes stuff and his own image.

    Why is Whedon right to refuse to talk about it? I’d argue he isn’t. Not denying allegations can in this business be akin to confessing to them. I find it highly likely he intentionally wrote Cordelia to die because of his frustration at Carpenter largely because the optimistic side of me tends to believe that Whedon could never have written anything so awful as that intentionally.

    It’s as much a lie to deify a creator as it is to tear into them on shaky grounds. As stated previously, I find Whedon very good at what he does, but there’s more than a little evidence to suggest malpractice and egotism at work behind closed doors and although we can never know one way or the other, I’m personally inclined to believe Carpenter if she says Whedon’s writing of Cordelia was punishment for her concealing her pregnancy.


  40. [Note: Noah posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    There’s a difference between being difficult to work with and destroying your own creation over a personal issue. He could have just fired her. Besides, part of my point was that Carpenter may remember her own perspective accurately and be telling the truth, but that doesn’t make a complete story. She may have felt that Whedon was punishing her because he was angry and they weren’t getting along, and on top of that she didn’t like where the character was going. That doesn’t mean that that’s what he was doing.

    I don’t really know much about how Whedon regards most of his projects, but I’ve seen him cop to making mistakes in what I’ve seen. Even with Dollhouse he said that parts of the show just weren’t that good and that it was his fault.

    And Whedon is right not to talk about it because it’s a personal matter. The fact that he is a public figure doesn’t mean that his entire life is fair game for us to know about. The same is true with Carpenter; if he came out and told a side of the story where she was behaving very poorly, that wouldn’t be right and would probably be turned into “another reason why Joss Whedon is a sexist” anyway.

    Besides, who cares about “the business” or what people think? You do the right thing, and forget about public image. If he refuses to talk about it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do and it’s costing him reputation to do so, I have all the more respect for him.

    What is malpractice with respect to this case? I’m not sure what that means in this context.

    In any case, I don’t consider him a deity or any such thing. He’s a great writer. It’s pretty much impossible to find one who’s not a difficult person.


  41. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    There’s a difference between being difficult to work with and destroying your own creation over a personal issue. He could have just fired her.

    Pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. Actors have contracts, and shows need internal consistency. If you can no longer work with an actor for whatever reason, you have to write them out of your show. Sometimes, this can result in some very poor television. See: The sudden death of Maggie Walsh in Buffy season 4.

    Supposing Whedon did want to get rid of Carpenter, he would first have to get rid of Cordelia’s character and then not renew her contract next season.

    In addition, I’d say there’s a difference between prying in an actor or writer’s personal life, and taking into account their personal life as it influences their art. “Writer John got divorced three times” isn’t any of our business. “Writer John was going through a messy divorce while writing this novel, which might explain the extremely cynical view of marriage espoused therein” is kinda interesting, though.


  42. [Note: Noah posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    I’m not sure how one can draw the line between a personal experience that affects someone’s art vs. a personal experience that doesn’t. If you ask 100 writers whether any significant life events don’t affect their work, I think all 100 will say no, certainly all the ones I know will. It would be different if Whedon were dead.

    I’m not saying that the feud between them had no affect on the show. I’m just saying that a) we don’t know what happened, so speculating on how it affected the show is kind of fruitless, b) it’s hard for me to believe that a good writer would intentionally sabotage their own work to the extent of making a character incoherent and unlikable over a personal dispute, c) I don’t even think that Cordelia became a bad character, d) killing Cordelia right away and not renewing her contract would have been a much easier way of “punishing her”. Whedon kills characters all the time.


  43. [Note: Noah posted this comment on November 8, 2014.]

    I should use the preview button. That first paragraph makes no sense. I meant to say that it’s a very different thing to dig into the details of a writer’s personal life when the writer is dead.


  44. [Note: Zach posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    I agree with Noah, these are all pretty much baseless assumptions based on receiving half of a story to be honest.

    I don’t really think Whedon is guilty of egotism, at least, not to any extreme, I have often seen interviews, commentary’s, etc which frequently blame himself for mistakes he made. In fact if I recall correctly, in a recent interview he stated that he was quite disappointed in the overall quality of his work in The Avengers, and that he ‘thinks the second one is good’. Even if the film was in poor quality (which in my opinion it most certainly wasn’t, although it wasn’t ‘great’ either), the general populace seems to think it is the greatest show ever, that being said, if he were truly an egotist, I find it doubtful he would be self-critiquing such a work with that much praise. The way he words his phrases and the way he self-critiques doesn’t strike me as an overly egotistical man, but again, this is all just random conjecture, but nevertheless it is enjoyable to discuss.


  45. [Note: Zach posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    Seconding that comment Noah made about using the preview button…Damn you lack of EDIT button!!!


    Greatest Show > Greatest Movie

    “the general populace seems to think it is the greatest [movie] ever” – this was a exaggerated line, I don’t think many actually think that much of it.

    There’s other errors but it’s still readable, sorry about that.


  46. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    b) it’s hard for me to believe that a good writer would intentionally sabotage their own work to the extent of making a character incoherent and unlikable over a personal dispute

    That’s the second time you’ve mentioned “intentionally sabotaging their own work.” That seems like a straw-man to me.

    In the worst case scenario, Whedon intentionally made Cordelia’s character go through some very nasty things because of a personal dispute with the actress. But making a character suffer does not mean sabotaging the work the character appears in. Making a character evil and unlikeable can still result in perfectly good stories and television, even if it upsets fans who are personally invested in the character.

    There are two questions being asked here: whether Cordelia’s character development was influenced by interpersonal conflict, and whether it was poorly written. The answer to the second clearly is “yes.” But then, the same goes for much of her arc in season 3 where she became all goody-goody and a higher being, and that was long before any pregnancy hijinks.


  47. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    What I think is that Whedon intentionally wrote Cordelia to be unsympathetic and evil because of his frustrations with Carpenter and, although it was not his intention to destroy his own work, that decision ultimately was a death knell to the character and to season four which could have been avoided if only Whedon had stuck to his original plan (or some variant thereof) and not allowed personal vendettas to interfere.

    *Necessary disclaimer that this is all speculation; I have no idea as to Whedon’s actual actions and/or motivations beyond conjecture and guesswork.


  48. [Note: Other Scott posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    We do have to remember this is all just speculation, but I find it hard to believe a writer would make something sub-par on purpose, especially a stretch of 10 episodes, just because of a dispute with an actress. A bad episode to kill off a character because it has to be done? OK, shows can recover. But you aren’t going to damage an entire season for this reason.

    On the other hand, it would explain Charisma’s really poor acting that season.


  49. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    Ever tried acting an impossible role while heavily pregnant?

    Me neither, but I hear it’s pretty hard.


  50. [Note: Noah posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    I agree that the distinction you’re drawing is a correct one, but it doesn’t accurately characterize most of the discussion surrounding this issue:

    From Freudian:

    Actually, the situation with Joss and Cordelia’s character about Angel season four was pretty ugly, and Charisma Carpenter has claimed in interviews that she was intentionally badly written and destroyed before her character’s death and that Whedon promised her that Cordy would survive “You’re Welcome” and then killed her anyway.

    From Monica on the forum:

    Charisma Carpenter, on the other hand, has been quite candid about it in interviews and at conventions. According to her, her pregnancy messed with the original plans for the season, and Joss punished her for it. He wrote her out her character, not before destroying it, out of spite. Of course, there are two sides to every story, but judging by Joss wanting to kill Xander off because of his frustration with Nicholas Brendon, I believe her.

    Writing one of the main characters badly is going to negatively affect the quality of the show. Now, I happen to disagree somewhat with you about Cordelia’s character in season 3, and probably season 4 as well. St. Cordelia, as she’s often referred to, wasn’t really all that saintly, and season 4 is the evidence of that. She got all these powers and was flattered by Skip and felt all noble for feeling everyone’s pain, and it went to her already proud head. I think that’s an interesting journey, and definitely an in-character one for Cordelia. All the other characters on Angel ended tragically, and this was her tragic ending. It wasn’t carried out nearly as well as it could have been, possibly because of some behind the scenes issues, but also because the show’s two best writers both left.


  51. [Note: Zach posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    I can’t find anything relating to Charisma stating that he intentionally wrote her character badly in spite of the disagreement…The only thing I could find is her stating that they promised her to stay alive and well…we know what happened there…Anyone have a source that indicates that she actually stated the things we are arguing over?

    I also agree it’s pretty much all conjecture, we know nothing, but I am more on the side of: I highly doubt he purposefully wrote her terribly…That is silly.


  52. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on November 9, 2014.]

    The part where I saw Carpenter talking about it was in this panel discussion on youtube, from 5.45 to the end:

    She is specifically talking about the Connor relationship when she mentions Joss being mad at her for the pregnancy thing, and that she left the show in nasty circumstances. (She found out she was fired from a press guy who called her after the season was done, nobody actually told her she wouldn’t be back for season 5.)

    (And on a side note, while we can’t know for sure what happened behind the scenes, that whole Connor relationship was so out there and such a ridiculous idea in general that I’d almost rather believe it was a petty way of getting back at an actress than that Whedon thought it actually was a good idea.)

    About “You’re welcome” she says that she says she didn’t want to come back, but did it anyway because otherwise Cordelia’s character would be left hanging and that’d suck for the fans. She did stipulate she wouldn’t come back if they were going to kill Cordelia, but after she signed her contract she found out they were going to kill Cordelia anyway. Which really upset her. But when she read the actual script she liked it anyway, because it was really good.


  53. [Note: B posted this comment on November 16, 2014.]

    I own Angel The Complete Series and Buffy The Complete Series(and each season boxest) and both are great shows. I understand the SMG comments you’ve made but if the star of your show is unhappy she’s going to complain and beg you to make little changes here and there and if you don’t when her contract is up she’s going to move on which is what Sarah did. I believe James Masters complained about their treatment during the sixth season as well. Season six is still a great season. Her main complaint was Buffy having sex on the balcony at The Bronze with Spike while watching her friends is out of character. I don’t think she was complaining about Buffy’s relationship with Spike.


  54. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on October 16, 2015.]

    Been made to think about the season openers lately and I think it’s safe to say that this is probably the best premiere out of either show.

    It just has some strong atmosphere manages to bridge the gap between the previous season and the forthcoming one and despite it not really having that much of a plot manages to keep your interest throughout.

    It also manages to hold it’s own as a great episode where as some of the others tend to only work as premiere episodes.


  55. “I could see at least four or five episodes coming out of an Angel-less AtS. But I suppose David Boreanaz had a contract. And a lawyer.”

    This has me wondering, did the writers have an orignal plan for Angel to stay out for the season a bit longer but David pulled some shit and threatened to take legal action or was your statement just a general guess?


  56. No, this reviewer doesn’t understand Angel at all. Yet another Angel-hating ‘fan’ predisposed to thinking of the character in the worst possible light to the point where they don’t know what is in or out of character.

    Angel is disappointed in Connor, sure, but he blames himself more. He gives Connor a million chances because 1) he’s the only son he’ll ever have, 2) he doesn’t blame Connor for how he was raised in a hell dimension and sympathizes with the fact that he has no understanding of how the world works, 3) he blames himself for both what Angelus did to Holtz and not protecting Connor as a baby.

    Angel would only ever consider hurting Connor (in a permanent way, not to give him a do-over with a new identity) would be if Connor was directly threatening someone at that very moment and he had to be stopped. But even then, Angel would look for a way to avoid permanent harm. He’s willing to bloody him up to allow, for example, the Fang Gang to escape Jasmine, but Angel did that knowing perfectly well that there was no permanent injury and he has superpower durability stats. Even though Connor was directly threatening all of them, Angel only stopped him long enough for a momentary escape. However, if he was left with no choice and Connor was threatening a loved one, he’d probably injure him or even ‘kill’ him to prevent sure death of another.

    Home had such an incident where Connor was threatening to blow up comatose Cordy with a room full of hostages. The line in Deep Down is all about foreshadowing the scene in Home (which further makes the reviewer’s assertion bogus). And yet, Angel still managed to find a way to ‘kill’ his son that actually gave Connor a fresh start at life where he could understand the world.

    Angel still didn’t blame Connor for anything, though. He vacillated between blaming himself for being unable to protect Connor as a baby and what Holtz did to him; a train of thought which usually went right back to blaming himself for what Angelus did to Holtz. That’s why Angel couldn’t even blame Holtz properly in Benediction for what happened to Connor; he went right back to blaming himself.

    Angel’s comment in Not Fade Away says it all: no one can truly hurt him as long as Connor is safe.


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