Angel 4×05: Supersymmetry

[Review by Patrick Pricken]

[Writer: Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft | Director: Bill Norton | Aired: 11/03/2002]

[EDITOR’S NOTE] Ryan will no longer be reviewing Angel from this episode onward. In his place will be you: the community. This is why you will notice varying review styles from this point on. This is being referred to as the ‘Angel Completion Project’ and can be specifically tracked here.

When I asked MikeJer to review “Supersymmetry,” it wasn‘t because it is one of my favorite episodes, or one of my least favorite ones, but because I think I have something to say about it. And also because this episode is a great example of the effect mikejer‘s reviews had on me.

There‘s a difference between valid interpretations of a work of art, and fanwank. Analysis can provide deeper meaning to an episode, and watching “Supersymmetry” closely made me appreciate what I first thought were flaws. I just hope I‘m not fanwanking. Part of what attracts me to Joss Whedon‘s work is his feminism, shaky and problematic though it may be. Those problems are bigger in Angel than in Buffy – Cordelia has two mystical pregnancies and more or less dies giving birth, as do Fred and Darla. And until know, I lumped this episode in with the problems, when in fact, it just might be the opposite.

In the previouslies, we hear Fred‘s reaction to Angel in Pylea again: “Handsome man saved me from the monsters.” This sets up the final confrontation when Gunn saves Fred from killing Seidel, but also serves as a thematic tuning fork for this episode. It‘s that sometimes, the women are better off not being saved by handsome men, but saving themselves.

Consider Cordelia, who is at Connor‘s apartment (or whatever that is where he lives). She‘s got her clothes – even her fuzzy slipper; she‘s got pictures of her friends, but something‘s still missing, and it‘s not her memory. Connor rightly surmises it‘s the fighting, something Cordelia realizes as well: she tells Angel at the end that she doesn‘t need protecting. Note also that Connor lets Cordelia go back to Angel: Cordelia, even without her memory, gets to decide for herself. And later on, will return to Connor freely.

Consider Professor Seidel and his eternal TA Laurie. Laurie doesn‘t get sent into a hell dimension because she‘s safe, she doesn‘t threaten his power. Whereas Fred does. Aside from opening up portals around her, Seidel also tries to get Fred back under his power by offering to teach her – though what would he teach Fred, who names the dimensions he is only vaguely aware of? Teachers are supposed to facilitate emancipation, to enable their students to do their own thing and, yes, surpass the teachers even. Seidel can‘t bring himself to do that, and that‘s why he gets punished.

And of course, consider Fred. What a long way she‘s come, from not being able to leave her room in “Heartthrob” [3×01] to now wanting to be seen, holding a public lecture. Her publishing the science article means she‘s fully back to herself, and as Seidel rightly notes, it‘s time for her to choose her own life, not live the life that “kind of chose [her]”. It‘s telling that, Seidel‘s betrayal or not, Fred stays with Angel Investigations. She is not forced to stay – she could become a physics star – she chooses to.

This episode is the beginning of the end for Gunn and Fred‘s relationship, and at least part of that is due to Gunn‘s decision to kill Seidel and not let Fred do it. It is a decidedly patronizing decision: Fred chooses to send Seidel into another dimension, and Gunn simply disregards that choice. Compare this to how Wesley makes sure Fred knows there‘s a price for murder, and how he offers to tag along, but in the end lets Fred go do what she thinks she must. This is part of why Fred and Wesley make a better match than her and Gunn.

The episode also gives us another reason. Fred is a science nerd, and Gunn has no idea about science. It‘s not that this automatically endangers the relationship – and even Wesley is just a layman, after all – but Gunn‘s reaction to it does. Fred is right that Gunn doesn‘t have to read her article, and note how she throws herself at him for even trying. But we know that despite his mannerisms, Gunn has self-esteem issues. Gunn thinks he‘s stupid for not following the quantum physics discussion between Fred and Seidel. He isn‘t – even quantum physicists have problems understanding quantum physics. But he thinks he is, and by extension he feels he‘s not good enough for Fred. And that feeling is another reason for the two to fall apart.

A third reason is Fred‘s naiveté about the men she falls in love with. At the beginning, Angel was the superhero who could do no wrong to her. And here, in conversation with Wesley, she shows how she misunderstands Gunn, as well: she claims Gunn wouldn‘t have it in him to kill Seidel, and that‘s part of why she loves him. When Gunn quite clearly does have it in him to do just that, Fred has to face that maybe he isn‘t the man she thinks he is.

But that‘s not all there is to “Supersymmetry.” In season four, the writers really overextended themselves, and even in such an early episode, you can see the ambition, you can see how many different things they try to juggle. There‘s the main plot to consider with Lorne fresh out from a minor lobotomy. We know that evil is coming, and we get a few short scenes to remind us of that.

There‘s Cordelia – well, maybe there is, and maybe there is just something that pretends to be Cordelia. As a side note and perhaps fodder for discussion, I think it would have been much better to clue the viewers in to Cordelia‘s scheming much earlier (whilst still revealing it for Angel and gang when they did). Anyway: is this Cordelia (albeit without her memory)? Or is she already influenced by Jasmine?

I think both could be argued. Note how Cordy pins the photos on the board at Connor‘s. Sure, they’re photos of her friends, but that‘s also how in crime shows, the detectives put up photos of the suspects and the victims. The pictures could remind her of Jasmine‘s plan. And when Cordy kisses Connor, is that because of the fight? Because she really grew to care for Connor? Or because Jasmine needs a father? (The same for her bending down and almost revealing a nipple – could be accidental, could be on purpose.) Either way, these scenes set up what will later happen between these two, as do Lorne‘s comment about Cordy shacking up with Angel‘s hellspawn, and Connor‘s complaint that Cordy‘s always stealing the blanket.

The episode ends with Cordy asking Angel whether they were in love, and I‘d prefer Angel not to answer – ever – because while I don‘t dislike Connor that much, I have a strong dislike for the Angel / Cordelia love affair. That these two maybe hop under the blankets? Okay. That they fall in love to the extent they do? No. I just can‘t make myself believe it. Of course, casual sex is not something network television likes to do with its heroes. I mean, pretty much every kind of unconventional sex is likely to be relegated for the evil or at least morally grey characters.

Which brings us to Wesley and Lilah. This episode is free of either dirty phone sex or role-playing – something I doubt Wes would have done with Fred, had they had more time together. In “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” [4×04], Lilah used Wesley to lure Angel away from Lorne – and really, Wesley shouldn‘t blame her for that, but himself –, and now she brings a present to make up for it. I love Lilah, she‘s such a survivor, and it‘s getting more and more obvious that she‘s falling for Wesley. That‘s why she follows him to Fred‘s talk, out of jealousy, and that‘s what makes her order the outfit she‘ll wear next episode. I‘m guessing that‘s what she‘s doing on the phone when she leaves the lecture hall.

This episode also touches on an issue I think Mutant Enemy constantly screws up: morals. Basically, Angel (and Buffy) often show us how violence helps solve problems, but at the same time, Angel (and Buffy) lecture others that it doesn‘t. Angel has no problems killing psychics who make Cordelia‘s visions more dangerous, or doctors who can dissolve into separate body parts to stalk their girlfriends, or anyone (except for recurring characters). I get why they don‘t want Fred to kill Seidel, but I don‘t buy it. It‘s not like they can throw him into prison for conjuring portals into hell dimensions, unless the public is much more informed about the supernatural than I recognized. And it‘s not like they‘ll be able to convince Seidel to stop what he‘s doing. Right or wrong, in the confines of the series, Seidel has to die. Or receive a suitably poetic punishment.

Finally, did I enjoy this episode? I respect it for all that it does or tries to do, but I don‘t really enjoy it. I prefer the episodes later in the season when the major arc has taken off. I‘m also not a big fan of Fred and how almost anybody she meets falls in love with her and her microskirts (I think the writers even considered having Spike develop a crush on her later on), how she‘s like a science plot device who can do anything (medicine, maths, physics, chemistry, …), and how she‘ll suddenly fall in love with Wesley just in time to die dramatically. I also don‘t enjoy Cordelia in this season because, no matter the writers’ intent, she doesn‘t act like the Cordy I have grown to love in the previous years. Fred and Cordelia take up major parts of “Supersymmetry,” and the episode is neither funny nor tense enough to make up for that. Despite all the balls it‘s juggling, it‘s also in a holding pattern, setting up a lot of things that happen later on without much happening here.

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Angel‘s confused face when Gunn makes the “Daredevil” allusion.
+ Angel‘s flustered behaviour after Gunn called Fred “unstoppable.”
+ Lilah calling Angel on his idle threats (recurring characters and all); it‘s hanging a lampshade on it, but it‘s still high time someone did it.

– “[T]he chatty boards”? Really?
– Opening a portal with a text message? Lucky for Seidel that Fred installed the mystical rune font on her cell.


* This episode is the beginning of the end for Fred and Gunn‘s relationship. They will continue to drift apart.
* Out of jealousy, Lilah buys and wears glasses and a schoolgirl outfit next week, and Wesley will force her to keep the glasses on.
* Cordelia and Connor get ever closer, and kiss. Whether naturally or as part of Jasmine‘s manipulation, they will have sex and Connor becomes Jasmine‘s father.
* Note how Wesley smiles when he‘s listening to Fred‘s lecture, and how open his face is when he‘s talking to Fred in his apartment. Not only is Wesley‘s life intersecting more and more with Angel Investigations again, it’s obvious that he’s happier when he’s around Fred, making his eventual return into the fold that much more natural.
* Gunn’s feelings of inadequacy are a major motivation for his arc, coming to the forefront in “Players” [4×16] and leading him to take the lawyer upgrade in season 5.
* Okay, open question: what’s with the present Lilah gives Wesley, the helmet. Is that some kind of foreshadowing? That he’ll be a knight again soon, i.e. one of the good guys?




24 thoughts on “Angel 4×05: Supersymmetry”

  1. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on August 2, 2010.]

    Great review, Patrick. Great job. I really liked how you explained the feelings of inadequacy by Gunn, as I agree. Gunn really starts becoming more interesting from now on. And he really hates being just “the muscle”.

    Maybe you could do some more.


  2. [Note: sidhlairiel posted this comment on August 3, 2010.]

    I’m so excited to see a new review! This was a solid analysis and really well done – I’m glad to hear that you are writing more. I could have done without the negative remarks regarding C/A though, since the thing that I enjoy the most about this review site is that the reviews are always fairly balanced and present both the positives and negatives of every character and ship. Please don’t be put off writing more in depth simply because you dislike a certain ship! I was disappointed that you skimmed over a really important moment for both Angel and Cordelia, especially in light of later developments.


  3. [Note: Patrick posted this comment on August 3, 2010.]

    sidhlairiel: you’re right, I should have addressed that a little more. But don’t forget that this episode is just a cliffhanger, the moment is repeated and followed through on next time. So I was pretty sure the following review would pick up my slack. Rest assured, though, that had I delved into that moment, I would have delved more into why I don’t buy the C/A relationship, too, so be careful what you wish for 🙂


  4. [Note: JammyJu posted this comment on August 4, 2010.]

    A really well written, and enlightening review.

    However, I was going to make the point sidhlairiel made, but seeing as you’re going to address the C/A relationship in more detail next time then fair enough.

    I also disagree to an extent about how Fred and Wesley fall in love just in time for her to die.

    It’s not only the right path (in my view) for her character to push on and develop into something different, but it also extends the tragedy of Wesley.

    Besides, relationships never last in JW shows, so it’s to be expected somewhat..

    well done though.

    And it’s great to be reading fresh reviews again =)


  5. [Note: Patrick posted this comment on August 6, 2010.]

    Yeah, well, JammyJu, I would be fine with all that if all the episodes up until then hadn’t played with Fred going out with Knox. And then suddenly, they already had had some dates and it didn’t work out, and she’d fallen in love with Wesley, in the one episode before she’s vomiting blood. And I expect better from Mutant Enemy than such a sudden change of heart with immediate death consequences. It is similar to Tara’s death, but there Tara just decided to come back more quickly, not suddenly decided she loved Willow.


  6. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on August 7, 2010.]

    Great Review! I’ll look forward for the next ones!

    I particularly liked how you adressed Fred and Gunn’s relationship, that was clever and covered all aspects of it. Really good job!

    A little bit disappointed in just one tiny little point: that you did’nt link Angel’s phony morals to the theme of the ep. I think Angel is (like he usually is) very patronizing to Fred. I doubt he would’ve made such comments to Gunn. Either he would’ve considered that it was wrong and he would’ve done nothing that contradicts his saying or he would’ve just follow Gunn to help him take revenge or let him do it alone. I believe it’s a clear case of “men get their hands dirty while tiny women stay home”.

    About Fred and Wes in season 5, I agree with you Patrick. In fact, I’m still so angry about Fred’s treatment in this season that I can’t talk about it clearly. I think she’s just an instrument of the writers to give angst to the males of the show (because there’s only men left). They thought “let’s get angsty Wesley!” and therefore “let’s kill Fred! What? What’s that, character developpment? We don’t care for her arc, only Wesley’s one count! Man Pain is the real pain!”….Crap, I’ll just stop here, my comment is getting too negative and a little unfair ^^

    Back to the positive: I think you’re helping me deal with Cordelia’s….arc (bad word i think) this season. The way you explain the ambiguity of her actions is very intriguing!

    So which episodes are you gonna review? Salvage and Magic Bullet (If you had’nt say otherwise, I would think you’re a Fred fan ^^), are planning to do more? It’ll be a pleasure to read!

    (like always, sorry for my frenchy english:)


  7. [Note: Patrick posted this comment on August 8, 2010.]

    DeathMarion: good point about Angel’s behavior, I hadn’t even considered that.

    Thanks all again for the kind words on the review.


  8. [Note: JammyJu posted this comment on August 8, 2010.]

    Yeah, good points made about the whole Knox thing.

    I guess I never really considered that whole aspect, due to the tragedy of her popping her clogs in such dramatic fashion.


  9. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on August 10, 2010.]

    A few points I’d like to add:

    I’m not so sure this episode shows Wesley would be a better match for Fred. On the one hand he encourages Fred to make her own choices and doesn’t patronise her like Gunn and Angel do. But on the other, he’s cynically manipulative in how he points out Gunn’s failing to help her and obviously wants to drive a wedge between them.

    Once Fred catches on that Wesley is not so safe and solid as she had imagined him to be (as she was imagining Gunn to be, before this episode) when she learns that he was having a relationship with Lilah, she drops all thoughts of pursuing a relationship, just like with Angel and Gunn before.

    One of the themes of this episode would be people misjudging one another’s natures. Fred misjudges Gunn. Gunn and Angel want to keep Fred’s innocence intact but issues of chauvinism aside this is misguided; Fred decides to kill Seidel in cold blood, tortured Connor with the taser… it is hardly surprising that a woman who was a slave in Pylea for three years is not an innocent. Fred goes to Wesley for help but I’m not sure to what extend she understands his motivations in trying to drive a wedge between her and Gunn. And of course Jasmine and Evil Cordy are all about façades and mistaken judgements.


  10. [Note: Patrick posted this comment on August 10, 2010.]

    Oh, very well put.

    And you’re right, the fact that Wesley had sex with Lilah shocks Fred in a similar way. I didn’t think of that.


  11. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on August 13, 2010.]

    @ Iguana-on-a-stick:

    Oh I agree, Wesley’s not a better match for Fred at this point. In my opinion, his madonna/whore complex regarding Fred and Lilah is already too much for him to be a good match for either of them…Sadly, I believe that he leaves this complex behind him only after Fred’s death, thanks to Illyria who simply can’t fit in it…


  12. [Note: Lizzie posted this comment on August 13, 2010.]

    Great review. Maybe you should think about continuing with the rest of the series. I know I’d read them.


  13. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on August 13, 2010.]

    Great job Patrick.

    The Good:

    Fred still being cute.

    Fred wanting revenge. “You know what they say about payback? Well, I’m the bitch!”

    Angel not understanding how the demon is still alive without a head.

    The Fred/Charles/Seidel scene.

    Gunn snapping the professors neck. At least the 16th time someone broke a neck in the series.

    Wesley. Just Wesley.

    The Bad:

    The text message portal?

    Angel didn’t tear Lilah’s car in half, he only slightly ripped the roof.

    A bit slow and not very compelling.

    Cordelia and Connor.

    Seidel: “Fred, I know you. You’re not capable of hurting anyone.”

    Fred: “You don’t know me! Not anymore! Five years of pain and suffering in a hell dimension will make a girl capable of alot of things-”

    Fred: “Go away, Charles! You asked me not to kill him and I’m not…not exactly.”

    Gunn: “Sure you are. No way he could survive that. Don’t let him do this to you.”

    Fred: “How dare you! You don’t know! You don’t know what it was like!”


  14. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on September 29, 2010.]

    So…I’m a little late in the game, but I’m curious: Patrick, why are you opposed to the Angel/Cordy relationship? Maybe this is a better topic for the forum, though?


  15. [Note: Patrick posted this comment on September 29, 2010.]

    Well, I just don’t believe it. These two have been through a lot together, and for the longest time Angel had no attraction to Cordelia at all. And realistically, all those “I suddenly looked at her differently and realized I loved her” stories are incredibly unlikely. It is far more likely for these two to be steadfast friends, and maybe, as I said, hop into bed when they’re lonely. But on a long-running show, men and women just can’t be friends – in season 8, Illyria would have probably dated Lorne.

    So I’m mostly against the show telling me to believe these two are in lurve!!11! That their inane inability to talk about it is full of romantic tension. That the groosaluk is some kind of complication, but in the end, Cordy will realize how much she really loves Angel with all her heart OMG! And Angel hearts Cordy too!

    Yes, you can give me all those reasons: Cordy became selfless and heroic, that’s what Angel loves! And whatever. It’s still suddenly we throw a switch and they’re supposed to be in love, and the show milks it for all it’s worth while at the same time conveniently handwaving the idea of Angel really being in love activating the curse.

    I also kind of feel as if they didn’t know what to do with Cordy, so they turned her into a love interest.

    Their love just feels hokey and manufactured, and the seriousness with which the show tells me to be affected by it only makes it worse. I mean, come on, Angel, you’re over 200 years old, just talk to her. And Cordy, it’s not like she ever had problems saying what was on her mind. But now these two are unable to say anything, but at the same time they’re supposed to feel this strong connection. It makes no sense.

    And really, if you look at it, you have two women in the show’s regular cast. Cordelia not only gets demonically pregnant twice, but she at least kisses Doyle (and probably would have been more over time, if Doyle had stayed), she falls for Angel and, thankfully, also has the groosaluk. Fred gets Gunn, Wesley, and sort of Knox (and Spike admits his attraction, as well). Poor Lorne, he never got any in-house tail (though that might be because he swung differently, you know?).

    I don’t particularly like the trope, but if it’s well done, okay. But here, it’s just not well done; to me it feels unbelievable, hokey, and strained. This just feels like a love spell episode, only for a whole season (and more). It feels as if Buffy suddenly decided that yes, she’s actually totally into Xander (or gay ;)) and he is her true love – or maybe Buffy AND Andrew realizing they were meant for each other. Actually, it’s exactly like in “Something Blue” when Spike and Buffy first fall in love, only with nobody realizing how ridiculous that is.

    I have a great many female friends, but the longer I know them, the more our friendship grows. If they’d landed in bed a few times and maybe thought there could be a relationship in there, okay. But “hey, you know what? I am actually totally head over heels in love with you, somehow. Never noticed until now. Strange.”? No.

    And of course, this leads to Cordy having sex with Connor while Daddy watches, sadly. Doesn’t help, either.


  16. [Note: Jonny posted this comment on December 20, 2010.]

    Great review Patrick, it made me think a lot more about this episode. Fred acting the way she does makes a lot of sense. She was in a hell dimension where she experienced real powerlessness – no way back home, treated like an animal and she didn’t rescue herself, Angel and the gang does that. IMO this episode is about Fred finally getting to act on her own behalf, and considering what Seidel put her through it is not really that surprising that she wants to kill him. I agree with all the analysis about the men being over-protective of the women in Angel. If there’s one thing we know in the Buffyverse it’s that women are tough and don’t need protecting.

    On another point I agree with Patrick that it is time to let the viewers into the secret of who/what came back looking like Cordelia. My partner is watching this for the first time and freaked out at the events in Apocalypse Nowish (would love to see that reviewed!) Frankly, even knowing what comes next I found the whole Cordelia/Connor thing too incestuous for my liking – ok, she wasn’t his biological mother but she was in every other sense.


  17. [Note: Lovinthebuff posted this comment on July 4, 2012.]

    Hi, First up, great review Patrick.

    I have to say I loved this episode, because it finally eplained how Fred got trapped in Pylea, and forces her to face the demons she never knew were there since she thought it was just random accident. It also has (once again) a powerful performance by Amy Acker.

    The big fault/flaw with this episode is the ending. Gunn was never my favourite character, I didnt dislike him, he would just come at the bottom of the list as far as the regular characters go, (probably even below Lilah), but after this episode, GUNN IS A COLD-BLOODED MURDERER.

    A joke in BTVS was Andrew pointing out that most of the Scooby gang were murderers, but there were always circumstances, (Anya, Angelus’, Spike’s lack of souls), or at the very least consequences, (Willow dealing with Warren’s death by her hand).

    In this situation Seidels death is murder, pure and simple. He was the one in danger from Fred at this point so self-defense cant be used, Plus Fred was trying to send him to a hell-dimension, which wouldnt neccessarily have killed him. I’be just never been able to figure out why he killed him, then threw him in, why not just throw him in. I know people will argue this could be self-defense as if they’d let him go he would have tried to open up a new portal for Fred again, but they didnt have to let him go. They could have taken him back to the hotel and asked Angel or Lorne if there was a third option. Gunn didnt even consider this, he just killed him.

    Another statement made outright in BTVS, but also carried over in AtS, is that the humans have their own laws and rules, while the supernatural world has its own, and they each have their own respective ways of dealing with this. Seidel is no diffrent than Ethan Rayne in the respect that neither of them committed murder with their own hands, but were responsible for deaths through their actions. Ethan Rayne could never have been charged and held by the police cos he’s committed no human crime, so what would Buffy have done with him if the Initiative hadn’t been there. They could charge and punish him with the crimes he’d committed because they were, in effect, a supernatural police force.

    Gunn cannot even turn to the excuse of extreme pain as Willow could after Tara died. (Im not saying thats an excuse to kill someone, but at least afterwards its something that brings some empathy, and at least Willow felt the pain of what she’d done.) Gunn doesnt seem to care that he killed someone, however bad a person they may have been. Even Faith felt some guilt for killing the deputy mayor before her descent, even if she did everything to repress it you can still see it there on her face, she just quickly repressed it as soon as someone acknowledged it.

    The writers turned Gunn into a cold-blooded killer and the only consequence of it seemed to be that he eventually broke up with Fred. Blame the writers sure, but after this episode I just couldnt seem to like Gunn again.

    Thanks for reading my rant (if anybody did), and once again, a great review Patrick.


  18. Hey, nice review.

    I don’t mind Angdelia. Or Corgel. They’ve both changed, neither is the same person they were in Season 1 let alone back in Sunnydale. It could happen. I do think I’m starting to feel manipulated. We are filled with hope at the prospect of a happy relationship right before tragedy strikes. You know, in real life, people actually do have good, stable, loving, long-lasting relationships.

    SWEET Daredevil #181 reference. A classic for sure.

    Thank you, Dave, for that insight. I quite agree with your second point.


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