Angel 4×15: Orpheus

[Review by Miscellaneopolan]

[Writer: Mere Smith | Director: Terrence O Hara | Aired: 03/19/2003]

Season 4 of Angel is nothing if not busy. The narrative has abundant twists, the character dynamics are in constant flux, and almost every episode has multiple threads running through it. “Orpheus” has the responsibility of bringing two of those threads to a close. This is the last we see of both Angelus, Angel’s sinister alter ego resurrected to mixed reviews back in “Soulless” [4×11], and Faith, who was busted out of prison in “Salvage” [4×13] in an attempt to bring him down. The episode has some of the weaknesses endemic to Season 4: there’s almost too much going on, some characters get the short shrift, and one can’t shake the feeling that the overarching plot just doesn’t make much sense. On the other hand, “Orpheus” shares in the season’s strengths: it rides high on narrative momentum, it’s thematically dense and it keeps the audience wondering what will happen next. It also benefits from a slightly slower pace that allows for more focus on the characters and finally brings this section of the season to a satisfying close.

Although this episode gives every character at least a little something to do, the stars of this show are Angel(us) and Faith. In the teaser, we see that Faith had injected herself with the mystical opiate Orpheus while Angelus was busy ripping Wes a new one during the big brawl at the end of “Release” [4×14]. We never find out exactly how the drug works or why one would want to take it, but we know from Lorne’s affecting bedside scenes that it’s a hallucinogen and that Faith is unlikely to survive it. And so Angelus and Faith go deep down into Angel’s mind, perhaps never to wake up.

Faith clearly used her time in prison to grow up. When Angel last saw her she was a lost, angry young woman bent on destroying herself. Angel gave her a reason to keep living and to take responsibility for her actions. Now we see that maturity, and that loyalty, in full force. “I’m dying, dumbass,” Faith tells a frustrated Angelus. “I rolled the dice. Paid even odds.” Faith is fully willing to die here so that Angel might live. That kind of selfless act would be unthinkable for her only a few short years ago.

But Faith’s newfound sense of selflessness might have an ulterior motive, something Angelus notes when Faith seems just a little casual about her impending death. “Thought those suicidal tendencies got squashed in the big enlightenment,” he tells her. Faith is almost too willing to die for Angel. She did horrible things, she served her time, and she’s ready to make up for all of it with one grand gesture. Once she dies fighting the good fight, the pain will end and it’ll all be worth it. In a way, she’s where Angel was two years ago in “Reprise” . There, Angel went in hoping to die in a blaze of glory and came out understanding that no gesture however grand could ever make up for his past transgressions. Atonement means fighting everyday, and that’s exactly what he tells Faith in this episode. “It hurts,” she cries. And it always will, and they’ll keep fighting anyway.

Of course, more than a few things have happened to Angel since he had his epiphany. With no eternal reward expected or sought after and Season 4’s long stream of catastrophes fresh in his head, he’s begun a backslide into despair that won’t fully crystallize until “Home” [4×22]. I imagine it was refreshing for him to articulate the comparatively simple morality of “Epiphany” [2×16] to Faith. For the first time in a while, Angel gets to be a hero, plain and simple.

And boy does that bug Angelus. Much has been made of this season’s decision to treat Angel and his sinister alter ego as though they are entirely separate beings rather than a continuum, a distinction on full display when the two literally beat on each other inside Angel’s mind. But if the distinction was at its most infuriating in “Long Day’s Journey” [4×09], where it was implied that Angel and Angelus have entirely different brains, then it’s at its most amenable here, where Angelus is treated as a separate being buried deep in Angel’s subconscious. “I’m always here, Faithy,” Angelus tells Faith, “deep in” (and why they didn’t have him say “deep down” is beyond me, but whatever). The scene in the restaurant, where we see a 1970s Angel drink the blood of a cashier killed in an armed robbery, is an important reminder that Angel is capable of evil acts even with a soul, and that Angelus, though suppressed, is never gone.

The writers still let Angel get off way too easy, though.

But all’s well that ends well. With Angel re-ensouled and their magical mind tour concluded, Angel and Faith share a quiet moment in the Hyperion garden in what is probably my favorite scene of the episode. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you,” Angel says. “Another time,” she replies. In this moment we’re reminded how much these two repentant murderers have in common, how well they understand each other and how far they have yet to go. Faith will take the lessons Angel has taught her to Sunnydale where they can be put to good use, and Angel will continue to fight the good fight knowing there are people like Faith out there who make it worthwhile.

At least that’s the idea until, at episode’s end, Cordelia descends the staircase wearing the most garishly evil maternity garb this side of Rosemary’s Baby. How any of the gang could look at her and NOT think that she was about to give birth to Satan is a mystery. While the most emotionally potent parts of this episode are devoted to Angel and Faith’s development, more screen time is probably given to the gang’s attempt to shove a soul back into Angelus and Cordelia’s attempts to stop them.

It seems that the more of this Evil Cordelia we see, the less convincing a villain she becomes. Seeing her kill Lilah at the end of “Calvary” [4×12] was shocking. Watching her mack on the Beast in “Salvage” [4×13] was just sorta weird, and seeing her ineffectually try and control Angelus with her big booming scary voice in “Release” [4×14] made me really start to doubt her credentials as an evil genius. Now she fails to prevent the gang from bringing back Angel, makes pop culture quips and is generally played as goofy more than anything else.

On top of all that, I still have no idea what her plan is, and knowing what will happen in the remainder of the season doesn’t help. Releasing Angelus was supposedly “crucial” for her, but all he managed to do was kill her minion, bring back the sun, and lodge a crossbow bolt in her thigh. Later, Angel will posit that it was all done to distract the gang from what was happening, but that seems like a hopelessly complicated plan for so simple an end. A more fitting explanation which begs consideration is that the writers began plot lines without knowing how to end them, with this as the result. When Wesley says of the Beastmaster that he’s “enormously powerful” I have to wonder if we’re not supposed to laugh.

That being said, Cordelia’s control over Connor is fairly creepy and believable. She plays to Connor’s weak points: his hatred of Angel, his desire for family, and her likely position as his first and only lover. Perhaps most importantly, she attempts to cut him off from the others by appealing to the very teenage belief that he and she alone are “special” and are therefore justified in committing evil acts (killing Angel) in service of the greater good. This philosophy is actually pretty similar to the one Faith herself followed back on Season 3 of Buffy when she justified her murders by claiming that she, as a slayer, was “better” than other people. Having seen all that play out, it’s very fitting and yet another sign of her growth that Faith is the one to kick Connor’s ass at the end, preventing him from tumbling down the slippery slope she herself was on not so long ago. That she does it without even breaking a sweat is just a fun bonus.

Faith continues to show her maturity when, after Connor admits to having “messed up,” she gladly forgives him, telling him that messing up “just makes you one of us.” In addition to being a very gracious thing to say, this has the added effect of including Connor within the fold of the group where Cordelia was working hard to exclude him. Much of Connor’s arc this season has to do with his identity constantly being torn between different sets of values. We know, of course, that he eventually chooses to give in to his despair and hopelessness, but I have to wonder whether that would have happened if Faith, a woman to whom he is clearly attracted and who holds a positive influence over him, had stuck around. With her gone, Cordelia has Connor more or less all to herself, with predictably disastrous results.

Outside of a few nice moments and bits of dialogue, the other characters are largely relegated to the background here. Willow visits L.A. and is used largely as a device, albeit a very sensible and natural one, to forward the plot. I enjoyed her babbling conversations with Fred; seeing the two characters side by side really makes obvious how they’re cut from the same prototypical cloth. Also fun is Willow’s lone scene with Wesley where his bad-ass persona deflates just a little when he compares his dirty deeds to Willow’s and finds himself lacking. Gunn has very little to do, but I liked how he took charge of the situation as Angelus and Faith were brought into the hotel immediately following the teaser.

While he doesn’t have a lot of screen time compared to some of the other characters, we actually get a decent amount of insight into Lorne in this episode. We’re used to thinking of Lorne as a perpetually peppy and cheerful guy, so the notion that he would be familiar with the effects of a drug as dangerous as Orpheus is at first surprising but makes sense when one considers what running a demon bar in L.A. must have been like; he probably saw stuff like this on a regular basis. His scenes at Faith’s bedside, where he weakly tells Faith that she’ll make it through her catatonia without sounding like he believes it himself, are touching and give us a preview of the tired and world-weary Lorne of late Season 5. The green guy’s carrying some pain.

Ultimately it’s this kind of focus on character moments, both large and small, that give “Orpheus” a bit of an edge over the episodes surrounding it. Season 4 is busy and “Orpheus” is no exception, but by focusing a bit more on the characters and a bit less on the plot, it comes out a real winner.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ There’s some very good editing in this episode. Many points for the opening sequence when Angelus and Faith are brought into the hotel as well as the moment when Lorne starts to sing ‘Macarthur Park’ to Faith only for the episode to cut to the restaurant where the same song is playing on the jukebox.
+ Has anyone else noticed how much Angelus likes to make literary references? He was making them left and right in “Soulless” [4×11] and here he makes reference to A Christmas Carol and Dylan Thomas.
+ Angel’s love for Barry Manilow reasserts itself here. And that hair he was sporting in the 70s: damn. Way scarier than Angelus.

– For someone so reticent about using magic back in Sunnydale, Willow seems more than willing to cut loose with the dark arts here in L.A.


Foreshadowing

* In this episode, Cordelia emotionally manipulates Connor such that he’s willing to kill his own father. Her control over him will grow to the point where he becomes an accessory to her murder of an innocent girl in “Inside Out” [4×17].


[Score]

90/100

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29 thoughts on “Angel 4×15: Orpheus”

  1. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on September 22, 2010.]

    Very good review. One of my favourite episodes of this season and you did it justice. I am especially glad you tackled Connor´s issues. A lot of people hate Connor but I can´t hate him because all he does is believable and all he wants is a family and somewhere to belong.

    Like

  2. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on September 22, 2010.]

    An A-minus sounds just about right. Most of the episode was great, but the Evil Cordelia stuff holds it back from anything higher than that. As far as the Angelus arc goes, I like “Salvage” just a bit more. Still, a bright spot in a dismal season (the last one until “Home”, as things get bad really quickly from here on out).

    Like

  3. [Note: Miscellaneopolan posted this comment on September 27, 2010.]

    Thanks for the kind words, all. Buffyholic, I think Connor’s moral struggle was one of the stronger parts of this episode. I’m a big fan of the slow-mo shot as he walks down the hallway on his way to kill Angel, clearly weighing the enormity of the action he’s about to take. And as ineffective a villain as Cordelia was, I liked her more in this episode than during her previous appearances, if for no other reason than she made me laugh. “I bid my thung.” Heh.

    Like

  4. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on September 30, 2010.]

    Great review, special thanks for the last part about Lorne, nicely insightful and written!

    I’m with buffyholic here, your treatment of Connor’s developpment is good! Especially the comparison with Btvs s3!

    About Evil Cordy, I think the only time she seems a good villain to me is this voice over Connor slow mo.

    Like

  5. [Note: Miscellaneopolan posted this comment on October 2, 2010.]

    I think Evil Cordelia is fairly convincing during Inside Out as well, what with her appeals to moral relativism and her cold-blooded murder of a young girl, but that’s another review and another cup of coffee. She’s at her best when she’s screwing with Connor’s head.

    Like

  6. [Note: Tom posted this comment on November 10, 2010.]

    “For someone so reticent about using magic back in Sunnydale, Willow seems more than willing to cut loose with the dark arts here in L.A.”

    Actually, that would be a con for BtVS. It was great to see Willow *using* her magical abilities. It’s a shame that on the show she was a main character she couldn’t do it over the poor excuse she wouldn’t be able to control it (er, she would overshadow Buffy and, most importantly, it would be clear Spike wasn’t “the strongest warrior” the Scoobies had).

    Like

  7. [Note: Seán posted this comment on January 2, 2011.]

    Really enjoyed the episode BUT I was annoyed that Lorne never interacted with Willow or Faith to an extent. Yes, yes, Lorne was by Faith’s bedside singing to her but apart from that we never see the two even exchange words with each other so Lorne’s caring for Faith seemed a little contrived. He was absent from the goodbye scene with Willow and Faith. In fact, I would have loved to see Willow meet Lorne. It would have been great to see her react to an actual green, unhuman looking demon working for Angel Investigations.

    I don’t necessarily mind the whole Cordy/Connor relationship because I know that this isn’t the real Cordelia and she’s clearly being possessed by the Beast’s Master. Still, it would have been nice to see flashes of the real Cordelia fight out against the Beast’s Master. It was sad to see her attempting (totally ineptly) to kill Willow. We haven’t seen Cordelia interact properly with any of the Scoobies since “In the Dark” so its sad to see that the last time Cordy interacts with a Scooby, she’s in the possession of an evil being.

    Like

  8. [Note: John posted this comment on January 20, 2011.]

    Angelus watching Angel saving a puppy was one of the high points of S4. Another BtVS/Angel crossover is also always welcome.

    Like

  9. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on March 29, 2011.]

    “Cordelia descends the staircase wearing the most garishly evil maternity garb this side of Rosemary’s Baby. How any of the gang could look at her and NOT think that she was about to give birth to Satan is a mystery.”

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read (or heard) all day. And oh so true. 🙂

    Great review, and I second Marion in completely agreeing with the wonderful little insight this episode gives us into Lorne. As I near the end of my AtS rewatch, I think Lorne is the character I sympathize with most (though he’s not the most intersting.) I also like the connection between Cordelia telling Connor “we’re special” and Faith’s similar previously-held beliefs — I hadn’t picked up on that.

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  10. [Note: Suzanne B posted this comment on April 14, 2011.]

    “When Wesley says of the Beastmaster that he’s “enormously powerful” I have to wonder if we’re not supposed to laugh.”

    I cracked up at this.

    Like

  11. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on July 20, 2011.]

    The Good:

    -Angelus won’t do it again. He won’t. “Dude, you just rescued a puppy!” Hilarious.

    -Angel’s love of Barry Manilow.

    -The guy with the girl in the diner wipes his nose leaving the bathroom. Cocaine anyone.

    -“Arf, arf, psycho.” Angelus vs Angel.

    -Willow and Wesley together. Trading tough-guy stories.

    -The look Faith gives when Willow and Fred are talking shop at the end.

    -Willow turns down Fred’s non-existent flirting.

    The Bad:

    -Making Cordelia visually bad now we know she is. I liked the subtelty.

    Like

  12. [Note: John posted this comment on July 26, 2011.]

    Regarding Willow’s use of power:

    Chronologically speaking, this is after “Get It Done” in Buffy S7. At that point, Willow has mostly overcome her fear of using her power and is back in the game, so to speak. So I can definitely see her not being afraid to cut loose on Cordy.

    Oh, what I would give for more Buffy/Angel crossovers; it’s a damn shame Xander never made it to LA.

    Like

  13. [Note: Lucy posted this comment on November 28, 2011.]

    I really hated Angel fighting Angelus in the dream. It was really obvious, nasty special effects and took me out of the episode a bit. Just another example of something that could have been awesome falling flat (see also: Angelus coming back at all, Cordelia being evil, everything to do with the beast)

    It was great to see Faith, though. There have been too many weak women in Angel lately. Cprdelia was just a tool (literally AND figuratively) Fred apparently just takes messages, Lila died. Nice to see a strong woman for a change.

    Like

  14. [Note: smallprint84 posted this comment on June 6, 2012.]

    I liked this ep. very much. Angel & Faith are a very good match as was proven before.

    They even now are a team in the Buffy-spin-off comic in Season 9!!

    Funny triva: The robber guy in the diner was played by Nate Dushku, Eliza’s brother!

    Like

  15. [Note: Unknown123 posted this comment on July 23, 2012.]

    Great Review.

    although cordelia is a good evil.

    but connor annoys me, he think he is strong, but he gets his ass kicked all the time.

    willow in this was amazing and faith ❤

    Like

  16. [Note: Will posted this comment on August 24, 2012.]

    Cordelia was an awful season and the only good use of her character was the one Joss wrote where they revert back to their earlier selves.

    As for Lorne, this whole season he’s been pretty useless and is just there for mild comic relief and being the exposition guy when the gang need information. Or maybe he’s always been like that. It felt most noticeable this season though.

    Gunn’s line about Wesley letting Faith do all the work only reinforces my dislike for the character even more. He’s just not at all likeable.

    Like

  17. [Note: Justcommenting posted this comment on September 22, 2012.]

    Perhaps the reasons behind Willow’s confidence in the use of magic in LA relies on the fact The First’s prescence is not as strong there as it is in Sunnydale. Most of her fear, I think, borns from that time it briefly posessed her.

    Like

  18. [Note: Dave posted this comment on November 12, 2012.]

    Barry Willnalow? I loved Faith and Wesley’s rapport. It felt very much like a Giles/Buffy relationship at this very same time in BtVS. Giles and Wesley both do what has to be done. Faith and Buffy are the ones who believe in the good within themselves and others, though they will do what they have to despite coming from places of darkness and light, respectively.

    Like

  19. [Note: johnc posted this comment on January 16, 2013.]

    To further John’s point in comment 13……this episode takes place right at the time of BtVS 7-17 Lies My Parents Told Me. Andrew says “Uh Willow….call for you from LA. Someone named Fred. He sounds kind of effeminate.” Willow then tells Buffy she has to leave for a day or two but interestingly she does not disclose that she has to restore Angel’s soul. Willow is pretty comfortable using magic at this point.

    Like

  20. [Note: Miss Jay posted this comment on February 16, 2013.]

    Miscellaneopolan, I appreciate the parallel between Conner and BtVS S3 Faith both thinking they are special. That hadn’t occurred to me. And speaking of great editing, Cordy says about Angelus ” Sometimes one death can spare infinite pain” then it cuts straight to a scene of dying Faith.

    Angel going from supine to vertical in Faith’s alley dream was effectively creepy.

    Cordy’s character (while still not great) has been much more tolerable now that they have let the audience in on her evil secret. Her lines to Conner one one level make me want to cringe because she seems so obvious & cheesy, but I also want to applaud how well and easily she manipultes him. To him, it’s not cheesy it’s every thing he wants to hear, so it works.

    Nice homage to Becoming Pt 2, will Angel die just as he gets re-ensouled like he did before? As for suspense, sadly I’m not even for a moment convinced this is a real threat. However, with Faith, I am quite unsure what the outcome will be, which drives the episode forward, and keeps the dream scenes from unbalancing the pace of the episode.

    My least favorite line, when Conner says Faith “died” in battle. I want to yell she’s not dead yet.

    Final thought, many have pointed out how effective and lovely the scene between Wes & Willow was. (and for the record I completely agree). Yet it highlights just how lacking the writers were with so many of the other characters for most of this season. Yes, they have soooo much going on plot wise. But when done well, it doesn’t take a long scene to get meaningful exchange. And it needn’t detract from what else is going on in the episode. *sigh*.

    Like

  21. [Note: Rob W posted this comment on September 5, 2014.]

    Strong candidate for my favorite moment in the entire series:

    Wesley: You seem exactly the same as when I left. No other…major changes I’m not up on?
    Willow: Ch…little things. So uh…Fred, what’s her story?
    Wesley: [double take]

    Especially with Denisof and Hannigan about to marry in real life, hilarious.

    Like

  22. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on December 13, 2015.]

    Been rewatching some snippets and I swear Angelus totally pulled a Dracula coffin move when he stood up after laying on the floor.

    Like

  23. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on January 17, 2016.]

    I was reading some Mark Watches comments on Season 7 and they noted how Willow seems a lot more comfortable with magic use here than she does in her own show at this point. Whether we should blame the Angel or Buffy writers is up to you.

    Like

  24. [Note: TheDoThatGirl posted this comment on July 17, 2016.]

    Well, I know a lot of people have issues with Angel and Angelus being portrayed as seperate personalities, but I honestly see them as a metaphor for Dissociative identity disorder. With this illness, another identity is created to help handle bad memories after a trauma. Angel,after the 100+ years spent in Hell after ‘Bargaining pt 2,’ more than likely shelved the consciousness known as Angelus, his demon, off. I could be wrong about this, but considering I have a friend with the same disorder, it’s a bit plausable, especially considering all the other metaphors the Buffyverse shows.

    Like

  25. [Note: Pathbeyondthedark posted this comment on July 17, 2016.]

    The metaphor is his subconscious learning to separate the two personas even if they are in essence part of one, single individual. Angel is not a (figurative) monster as a whole, but the (figurative) monster is still a part of him.

    In universe, there is a demon that posses him but it’s personality completely stems from Angel’s inner desires while inhibited by the lack of a soul. So the demon basically acts upon what Angel craves deep inside.

    So yes, it’s not Angel fighting Angel(us) but rather Liam fighting his inner darkness even if the physical form of his darkness is that of a demon.

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