[Review by Sue Carter]
[Writer: Steven S. DeKnight | Director: Steven S. DeKnight | Aired: 04/02/2003]
“Inside Out” represents a major turning point in Season 4. It’s extremely exposition heavy out of necessity as Team Angel comes to terms with “Cordelia” being the Big Bad, the birth of Jasmine, and Connor crossing a major line in the morality sand. This episode holds the responsibility to make sense out of the events thus far and set up the final arc in the season. It accomplishes that task, but does so with mixed success in terms of dialog and character.
“Inside Out” is one of those rare episodes that is written and directed by the same individual, in this case Steve DeKnight. This gives DeKnight considerable control over the entire process, but it’s hard not to wonder if some of the episode’s flaws are brought on by this being his first directorial experience. A little too much reliance on slow-motion for the fight sequences, a few continuity errors, and heavy-handed music represent some of these directing flaws. Conversely, the sequence between Darla and Connor is outstanding. Still, it’s probably the writing which deserves the most scrutiny.
The title “Inside Out” covers the main plot points; Team Angel and Connor’s world are turned inside out by the end of this episode as Jasmine literally moves from the villain inside Cordelia to a physical entity, and Connor and “Cordelia” are no longer inside Angel Investigations (AI) but rather hunted and on the outside. It’s an intentionally unsettling episode and in this way it succeeds. Most of Season 4 is unsettling. That seems to be just where Mutant Enemy (ME) wants the audience. The two big disturbing themes are: 1) the potential that everyone is just a pawn in a larger playground, and 2) the corruption of Connor’s soul.
The issue of pre-destination is hit upon very heavily by powerful demon Skip, the mercenary. He weaves together a story that states that every member of AI was manipulated into supporting the moment of Jasmine’s incarnation. The use of Skip is disturbing because he is such a likeable demon. He’s introduced again with light humor (the audio gag of him eating Buffalo wings is great), and then we find out he’s been playing for the Big Bad since “Billy” [3×06], where he let Angel defeat him. Skip’s motivation as a “merc” seems fairly obvious. He says he goes where the money is but he also shows enough arrogance that I’m going to speculate he probably was bored stiff on jail duty and liked having a bigger role in cosmic events. So I buy ‘evil Skip.’ But it does pull the rug out from under the audience who used to consider him trustworthy, especially as Cordelia’s guide.
I’ll cut to the chase and say that I think Skip intentionally overstates the pre-destination story to try and make AI believe their situation is hopeless. The aspects that are believable (and are repeated multiple times later in the series): Angel won Connor’s life when he tried to win a life for Darla, Jasmine (not the Powers) helped Cordelia get sent to a higher plane so she could hitch a ride, and Cordelia really didn’t deserve the higher plane yet, which is why she was so bored and alone there. That “Cordelia” targeted and manipulated Connor is evident, but it’s not clear that this is his only purpose for existing. He was ripe for manipulation, had the skillset to be Jasmine’s champion, and his involvement was a major distraction for Angel. Jasmine may have simply used Connor for her advantage rather than directly orchestrating his existence.
As for the rest of the nonsense — Gunn’s sister, Fred going to Pylea, and potentially Cordelia’s powers — Skip’s story does not seem particularly well supported. For Jasmine, what irreplaceable value did Wesley sleeping with Lilah provide? How did Gunn’s sister getting killed remotely effect Jasmine’s existence? However, Skip did serve his purpose; both AI and the audience are thrown for a major loop with his reveal. Further, when Skip dies, it hurts. Even though he’s a minor character he’s one we didn’t want to lose. Death of a beloved character is always a bonus in the Whedonverse.
The corruption of Connor’s soul is another major theme of “Inside Out.” Connor fights this slide like a drowning swimmer. Connor’s defense of Angel and attempt to blame it on Angelus is the first indication that somewhere along the way, Connor bought into both Angel and his mission. “Cordelia’s” explanation that Angel is trying to kill them (Connor, Cordelia, and the baby) because he hates Connor is the perfect argument. Connor fears he is actually a monster, Angelus’s son, and therefore an abomination. That Angel might eventually have to kill him makes sense to Connor. The jealousy argument is self-evident with Angel’s reaction post “Apocalypse, Nowish” [4×07]. Angel really did treat Connor like a romantic rival and this is enough truth to help shore up the rest of “Cordelia’s” story.
Completely unsupportable, however, is that Fred, Gunn, Wesley and Lorne and bad. For this “Cordelia” brings out the argument of Moral Relativism. It’s poorly played and hard to believe that Connor buys it though. DeKnight is counting on us accepting that “Cordelia” has completely destabilized Connor enough that he will grab onto her offer of family and love rather than rely on his own experience. It’s a hard sell made worse by some truly cheesy dialog. “Cordelia,” with the discordant Music of Mental Manipulation hammering in the background, speaks to Connor as if he is five years old with terms like “special” as a means of justification. It doesn’t work, however, and Connor almost pulls back from the edge.
Connor’s scene with Darla is a powerful one that is frustrating to watch. I suppose that’s what makes it a tragedy. There are so many ‘if only’ moments to it. If only Connor had freed the girl before Cordelia showed up. If only Darla had indicated that “Cordelia” was not herself. The Powers set up an extremely unfair test for Connor. After 18 years of manipulation and lack of family they pit an unambiguous evil act against the life of his child and a chance at a family. He knows it’s wrong but he’s clearly ready to give up the good fight and accept a rationalization that Darla is only a magic trick by Angel. It’s why he had to declare “You are not my mother!” She had to be a lie or the house of cards would collapse. It’s a powerful scene and conundrum that unfortunately gets seriously marred by the characterization of “Cordelia.”
This brings me to the fly in the chardonnay of this episode: the campy villainy of “Cordelia.” As the music is discordant, so is “Cordelia.” She’s not sexy, smart, or even moderately compelling in this context. I’ll split the blame here between seriously flawed dialog, horrific costuming, and unfortunate acting choices. First, let me cut Charisma Carpenter some slack. I’ve personally been eight and a half months pregnant. By that time my mood and my furled eyebrows were doing a Leonid Brezhnev impersonation. Filming a critical and subtle episode at that stage goes beyond reasonable professional expectations, in my opinion. Crawling on the ground muttering inane chanting? She has my complete sympathy. It’s no wonder Carpenter couldn’t elevate the script beyond the poor dialog. But to be completely honest, being a dramatically heavy Big Bad probably didn’t play to her acting strengths either. Her tone oscillated between snark and condescension. “We’re special.” “Your heart will lie to you.” “Who’s been filling your head with big, confusing words?” That dialog is hard to overcome for any actor.
In terms of the season long arc it doesn’t get much more relevant than “Inside Out.” Through this episode we get the full picture on everything that came before along with the setup for the Jasmine arc to come. Season 4 has two big storylines. First, it continues the series-long thesis that free will is our most important human right. Second, it tells the story of Angel’s son Connor and the permanent shift of Angel’s priorities. “Inside Out” does a good job at letting us know a lot about Connor. Uncertainty and hesitation were not part of Holtz’s world view, as it would likely get one killed in the constant daily struggle to survive in Quor’toth. But when “Cordelia” and Darla are both screaming at him, he simply becomes unglued. He can’t actually operate within “Cordelia’s” Moral Relativism so he frames the problem in terms of truth and lies. It’s much easier to accept that Angel is lying than to accept the truth that Darla offers, as tragic as that is.
In terms of story value, in addition to being an essential exposition episode, ”Inside Out” is a key character outing, particularly for Connor. In summary, while there are some jarring flaws that have to be ignored to fully enjoy this episode, the overall themes, character development, and importance to the season all work to make “Inside Out” both a worthy and significant chapter in the Season 4 operatic narrative.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The AI replay of events with Cordelia as the villain was entertaining and needed; especially the Lizzie Borden rewrite in mid-explanation.
+ Nice touch hiding in a meat packing plant. Clearly it was a ploy to mask the smell.
+ Vincent Kartheiser and Julie Benz were outstanding together as mother and son.
+ Angel and Wes’ discussion of “Cordelia” using a relationship with Connor to keep Angel distracted was a key point. Seen in that light, “Cordelia’s” actions make more sense.
+ Gina Torres is a compelling, radiant woman. Her selection to play an incarnate deity was a good choice. Her one word introduction was nicely understated.
+ We never have to hear the discordant Music of Mental Manipulation again after this episode. I was ready for them to kill the virgin just so the music would stop.
+ The virgin was well played. She was unflinchingly sympathetic and her terror came across very real. There was no grey for Connor to work with.
+ The use of Darla in lieu of the girl during the murder was a little obvious, but worked. Connor’s stunned look as the blood splattered her face was effective.
– When will Angel learn that flesh against metal will not be successful? He took a pummeling for quite some time before finally getting a chain.
– How could Angel have let Connor stay gone while pulling the sting operation on “Cordelia?” Connor’s actions were predictable and Angel once again proves that he thinks he can make decisions for others. In this case he decided to keep Connor in the dark rather than talk to him or actually trap him to avoid disruption. Sloppy.
– Charles’ free will speech was a little too on the nose. Fred calling him on it wasn’t a strong enough lampshade. We get it: “free will” is the theme of the season but the writers were a bit heavy handed with that speech.
– “Cordelia” is obviously using magic, something Connor has repeatedly rejected. He should have objected. A better argument for her would have been some call-back to how Faith was prepared to die for the right cause and how sacrifice is a necessary evil, etc. should have been used to justify the ceremony. As it is, we have to rely on mental instability to explain why Connor would go along with black magic.
– Taking on Kid Vicious and “Cordelia” alone? Really Angel, that’s another tactical planning failure. He should have taken Gunn. Protecting “feelings” versus ensuring the world doesn’t end? That was an obvious contrivance to make it the Angel/Cordy/Connor triangle one more time.
– What happened to the dead girl’s body after Jasmine arrived?
– That this had the potential to be Charisma Carpenter’s last episode is a crime. Thankfully “You’re Welcome” [5×12] was filmed.
* This episode nicely foreshadows Connor’s eventual descent into nihilism. Holtz gave him a foundation of moral absolutes. Even after his death, Connor clung to “the good” as defined by Holtz. Connor loses his absolute sense of right and wrong in this episode. By killing the girl he’s given up “the good.”
* Connor is floating at this point, looking for something to cling to. Jasmine becomes that answer and like a drowning swimmer he latches onto her with both hands. This episode foreshadows his choice to buy into the Jasmine lie rather than stick with Angel’s truth.
* Team Angel refuses to accept Skip’s declaration that there is nothing they can do. This foreshadows their choice for free will versus happiness in “Sacrifice” [4×20] and beyond.