Angel 4×19: The Magic Bullet

[Review by Patrick Pricken]

[Writer: Jeffrey Bell | Director: Jeffrey Bell | Aired: 04/16/2003]

It had to be blood. What else has so much metaphorical power, and in the Whedonverse, real power? Blood enabled Buffy to sacrifice herself for Dawn, blood is what vampires hunger for. And blood is responsible for the moment that I always remember when I think of “The Magic Bullet:“ Fred shooting Angel with Jasmine‘s blood.

It‘s a powerful moment that uses CGI effects for narrative reasons, so we can see the droplets of blood clinging to the titular bullet. It‘s the moment where once again, the whole season arc seems to shift and turn.

As we can start to look back on season four, I notice a lot of separate miniature arcs. First it was about getting the gang back together, and then there was the Beast, and then the Beastmaster, all seemingly leading up to Jasmine – and yet at the same time, it doesn‘t really feel as if it‘s all been leading up to this. It kind of feels as if the writers sat down roughly halfway through and recognized they had to salvage the series (no pun intended for my last review) — bring in some major threat.

On the other hand, the Jasmine storyline is ambitious as heck: making Angel and his crew fight world peace? If the execution is flawed – and it is flawed, in this episode even very much so – I can still love them for even trying. If only they had managed to pull off more moments like the one in the bookstore.

There is no logical reason for Jasmine to go there, just as there is no reason to go there without Wesley and Gunn. But it makes for a great showdown and a good reason why the newly disillusioned Angel and Fred get away. The execution is so good that I forgive them for the setup, and it‘s probably the only time in the whole episode I do so.

Because otherwise, there is not much here. We get a minor glimpse into the minds of Gunn and Wesley when they talk about Fred. Gunn is very bitter, expressing that Fred has “a history of“ rejecting love whereas Wes can‘t even keep himself from talking cute about her when describing her as a monster and a siren. “Don‘t let her grace or gentle beauty fool you“ he warns, proving that Fred‘s power over him is almost as strong as Jasmine‘s mind mojo.

We also get some very nice – and very disturbing – moments with Connor. I‘m not talking about the scene between him and Angel in the sewers because even though the idea of how Holtz left him alone for days in a hell dimension is awful, it‘s just an idea, not something we get to see directly, and the scene doesn‘t really work for me at all. Nor am I talking about his duet with Angel, though that song is most assuredly disturbing.

No, I mean Connor‘s professed wish for normalcy expressed in the beginning of the episode: “I wish I could see what you see“ he says to Jasmine. Having seen the episode, this takes on quite a different meaning. Everybody looks at Jasmine and sees the beautiful goddess. He sees the maggot-infested demoness, but he would so much like to see the goddess that he convinces himself. When Jasmine eats people, it‘s almost as if Connor participates in it, standing in front of the door to her room and smiling, commenting only that it’s “cool.“ When he tells her she’s “the most beautiful thing“ he‘s ever seen, he‘s talking about her true appearance (see below). And in the end, of course, he deliberately chooses Jasmine.

The thing is, I don‘t buy it. I buy that Connor desperately wants to belong. But as he himself reminds us, he grew up in a hell dimension hunting and killing demons, so much so that he had grave trouble accepting even Lorne. And now he willingly chooses to follow Jasmine? The show just doesn‘t give me enough about Connor so I can go with it, especially since Connor is not the kind of person who would make a rational utilitarian argument, weighing Jasmine‘s victims against peace. When Wesley turned against his friends, what made it so harrowing was how you could see his reasoning, agree with him even whilst he was making the wrong choice. There’s no such thing with Connor.

And Jasmine‘s not perfect, either. The writers show us how in her first attempt at influencing people from afar, Jasmine is burnt when her vessel is burnt, too. This possible weakness is not exploited later on, it doesn‘t even get mentioned again. Instead, Jasmine will be vanquished by some plot I‘m glad I don‘t have to write about.

What‘s more and admittedly worse: the writers even muck up their own ambitious idea. They turn Jasmine into more than just a people-eating demon, more than just capable of psychic control. The scene in the office where suddenly, everbody is attuned to everone else‘s minds, is the point where Jasmine, to me, clearly becomes the villain of the piece. Having someone walk through flames to get to Fred is bad enough, but the way the minds meld here seems like the total loss of privacy and, in the end, of individual personality. Suddenly, Jasmine isn‘t about peace anymore, but about eradicating personal freedom. It is clear that she must be killed, or at least defeated. And I wish things would be a little less obvious. In fact, most of the time when I think about season four, I don‘t even remember these moments so my impression is more positive than it should be.

Just like with this episode. We get a marginally funny open mic night – if you want to see one done right, watch Deadwood that I love mostly for woman using sign language to threaten horrible violence and the lone voice saying “right on“ from the audience. And lest we forget, there is also the scene where Fred meets the executive demon.

Let me be absolutely clear: this horrible scene is quite probably the single worst moment of all the seasons, of all episodes. How someone not only could come up with this scene, but be allowed to write and include it, I can only explain by having a few pages left in the script and the shooting being already in progress. The only miniscule purpose this scene has is making Fred understand that it‘s about blood, and really, Fred could have understood this in a myriad of ways that do not involve rubbery hands and slow, unfunny, useless banter.

Here‘s an idea: how about, if the theme is “working against world peace,“ making a pact with a hand-eating demon to fight Jasmine? Working with evil to do good? Is that allowed? Can that be the right thing? We can guess how Angel feels about that, but Fred? Fred, feeling so horribly alone right now whilst at the same time hearing everywhere how nobody has to feel alone, ever, anymore? But that would require giving us a great story about Fred, which we don‘t get even though it‘s a Fred-centric episode. Oh, there‘s the scene in the alley after Angel is cured, which Amy Acker knocks out of the park, but even then.

Writers, I don‘t know how to tell you, but there‘s this thing about Fred. She had to live in a cave for five years in another dimension before she was rescued. Which, with her being all alone against the world and having to hide, might have, you know, come up. Even once. Maybe.

Instead, Fred says, “I‘m as new to this fugitive thing as you are“ to the little green demon, and Angel remarks that she “ obviously learned a trick or two at Angel, Inc.“ It‘s as if Fred‘s whole history is forgotten in a situation where it could have come into play in so many different ways. And that is disappointing in any kind of show. In a show like Angel, that can be so good about these kinds of things, it breaks my heart.

I don‘t need cute little throaway lines, really. What I need from Mutant Enemy are compelling characters, and here they have the chance for a five course banquet and instead go for finger food. Literally.

 


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Even though I‘m not sure that in the world of Angel you can call conspiracy theorists “wackos,“ I really like that Jasmine tells the store owner Oswald acted alone. Because he did.
+ I like how Connor‘s reactions to the crew at the end can be taken as his true reactions, recognizing that his former allies will try to fight Jasmine, and that he has to oppose them.
+ Jasmine, in all her aloofness and with her smile, comes off as really creepy. Well done, making Gina Torres smiling and glowing green into a haunting image.
+ Okay, I admit, I chuckle at the mustache man.

– So… would Jasmine look like a desiccated human corpse to those spider demons, too?
– Why doesn‘t Lorne recognize Fred and Angel at Cordy‘s bedside?
– Speaking of which, Charisma Carpenter gets to grab Angel‘s hand. It‘s almost as if she‘s back on the team again. [/sarcasm]
– Fred and Angel had to look at Jasmine, but Wes, Gunn and Lorne get cured just so? Is Cordy‘s blood stronger?


Foreshadowing

* You might say Connor‘s lines about seeing foreshadow that he has always been able to see Jasmine for who she is, which will be made explicit next episode.


[Score]

62/100

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18 thoughts on “Angel 4×19: The Magic Bullet”

  1. [Note: Patrick posted this comment on September 26, 2010.]

    Hey, just so you know, the paragraph with Deadwood would make more sense if I had not forgotten a word and a hypen:

    We get a marginally funny open mic night – if you want to see one done right, watch Deadwood – that I love mostly for the woman using sign language to threaten horrible violence and the lone voice saying “right on” from the audience

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  2. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on September 28, 2010.]

    Good review. None of the Jasmine episodes are individually that terrible, but as I whole I find the whole arc so boring. There’s just not much there.

    Like

  3. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on September 29, 2010.]

    This episode is my favourite of the Jasmine arc, mainly due to Amy Acker. I gotta say that Connor accepting Jasmine as she is makes sense to me. He had trouble accepting Lorne, true but he wants so badly to belong that he forgets what she is. It´s like “Inside Out”. He always speaks bad about magic but in the ep, he kills an innocent woman just to appease Evil Cordelia.

    Good job! Next time I watch this episode I´ll keep your review in mind.

    Like

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

    buffyholic: yeah, you’re right about “Inside Out”. Maybe it’s the difference between believing this kind of hypocrisy is done on purpose or accidental – if you think the writers actually want Connor to betray his own words, that’s great writing, but if you think they didn’t consider it, that’s a huge oversight. And maybe I just missed something to indicate that the writers know what they’re doing, but I’m more in the latter team.

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

    Great review! I love the ending (of the review, not the episode).

    The Jasmine arc always reminded me of the Borg on Star Trek, because it seems like an anti-communist metaphor delivered in somewhat similar packaging (peace and happiness through totalitarian rule in which everyone looses their individuality). OK, the Borg aren’t peaceful and who knows if they’re happy, but still. I find this metaphor annoyingly simplistic in both cases.

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

    Great review, spot on about the good things there are in the episode (and sadly even more spot on when it comes to the bad).

    The scene with the demon: word. But it made me wonder. If the demon sees Jasmine’s real face, why are Lorne and Angel affected?

    About Connor, I’d say bad writing. Especially when everything about him is so over the top in the episode. I can buy that he overlooked Jasmine’s appearence, she’s his daughter and everything. But saying “She’s so beautiful” with this kind of smile? Really?

    And I can’t believe what they wrote about Fred!!! You made me open my eyes. I was feeling like her backstory was underused…But this? What the hell!

    Like

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

    Wow. Your score is so wrong for this episode. It is _brilliantly_ constructed for one thing. It takes Fred right down to the bone, completely alone, the whole world against her. Forced to try and pretend, in order to fit in, but feeling completely hopeless and lost. She faces insurmountable odds, you have no idea how she’ll overcome them, but somehow, and in a realistic way, she does.

    I bought into Connor’s betrayal easily. It felt completely right for where his character was at that point in the show. It made sense that he would try something else to fit in.

    The Jasmine arc is probably my favourite thing in the whole of Angel, too.

    As for the tiny button that broke your heart, you could easily add, “in this culture” to the end of her sentence. Her life in Lorne’s world was extremely different. It’s maybe an oversight that it was alluded to, but really, how would it fit into the episode, or the arc? Neither were about Fred, so it would have been incredibly wrong to go into her biggest trauma at that point. It certainly doesn’t ruin the episode for me.

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  8. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on August 24, 2011.]

    I also rated the episode slightly higher.

    Pros:

    -“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

    -It was good to see Fred all alone.

    -The bookstore guy.

    -Watching everyone get changed by the blood.

    Cons:

    -The scene of people singing and telling love stories about Jasmine. It was excrutiating.

    -How Cordy’s blood changed them without having to see Jasmine.

    -The writers keeping with the government line about having one shooter and it being Lee Harvey. Well Jasmine was evil so of course she would lie.

    Like

  9. [Note: Alex posted this comment on September 28, 2011.]

    Hi Patrick,

    I just wanted to say that, although I would personally have given this episode a slightly higher score, I really like your review! I’ve just attempted to review the previous one (Shiny Happy People) and it’s interesting to compare your ideas here with my ideas on that episode.

    I totally agree about Fred, except that she’s actually slightly less wimpy in this episode than she was in SHP. In SHP I think she’s meant to be kind of woozy and struggling to get over the loss of Jasmine’s mojo, but I still find her far too pathetic, and the fact that her backstory is completely ignored is almost unforgiveable.

    In ‘The Magic Bullet’, it’s nice to see some flashes of her old brilliance again, and that she does eventually come up with a pretty clever plan. One of my favourite moments is when she gives her jacket to the woman in the street, to turn her into a decoy-Fred. I just love that she gets the woman to take the jacket by telling her that Jasmine wants her to have it. It’s like she’s playing Jasmine at her own game, finding a way to use her power against her, and it shows that Fred still has a few tricks up her sleeve.

    The scene with the ‘Executive Demon’ is truly awful, though, and what’s worst about it is that it’s such a wasted opportunity. At the beginning of the scene you think ‘ooh, fugitive Fred meets fugitive demon, this could be interesting’, but then he just winds up getting stabbed in the head and the scene’s totally pointless apart from the fact that Fred’s arm gets injured in the same place as Jasmine’s. I completely agree that there were plenty of ways that could have happened without the silly demon – she could even have just tripped and cut her arm on a tree branch while running away. The only other thing we learn from this scene is that demons are having to go on the run to hide from Jasmine’s ‘demon jihad’, but even this isn’t very satisfying because it’s never really explained why Angel and Lorne are affected, in that case.

    Anyway, I’ve gone on far too long now, but to reiterate what I actually came here to say: great job with the review!

    Like

  10. [Note: ShowMeMagic posted this comment on November 2, 2011.]

    I like that Angel and Connor are singing the same song Angel sang in the second season, the first time we meet Lorne, “Mandy”. He thinks it’s pretty. But, obviously, here it is changed to “Jasmine” and Angel is happier and relaxed.

    Like

  11. [Note: Louisa posted this comment on November 8, 2011.]

    Well done! (meaning the review)

    I agree that Connor’s behavior around Jasmine doesn’t work. Connor did what he did because the writers wanted Angel to take the helm of Wolfram and Hart. Angel, to give his son a “normal” life (he should know better after Buffy), joins up with the biggest villain ever, and lets his friends follow him without knowing why. And they did. First they were dazzled by Jasmine, and then knowing what had just happened, they still got in the limo.

    Season 5 was excellent, even though it took the entire season to find a way out of Season 4. Spike’s presence helped a lot. And still one of the finest shows ever on television.

    Like

  12. [Note: SueB posted this comment on February 16, 2012.]

    I was watching “Shiny Happy People” today and I think I saw a little more continuity in the post-bliss effect than before. It always bothered me how upset was about missing Jasmine before she takes her the new sweater. Now I realize that this may have been Fred feeling the emptiness after getting Jasmine’s blood on her and she mistakenly thought this sense of loss/sorrow was due to missing Jasmine. IF it works that way then I’ll fanwank the rest:

    Angel – too focused on his anger to immediately realize the effect

    Lorne/Gunn/Wesley – felt the sorrow and were told by Fred & Angel what was going on (like they tried to do w/ Connor).

    Everytime I watch S4 (getting ready for another review) I see more evidence of Connor’s “acting happy”. Too subtle perhaps but it’s there IMO. He’s faking it but “going along with the flow” because he’s hoping it’ll eventually take hold. He was so happy at open mic night — that’s the real Connor. Think about it, he’s not under a spell, he’s just happy to belong.

    As for Fred’s backstory – IA they really should have referenced being on the run in Pylea. I really appreciate your take on this. I also agree, the executive demon w/ rubber fingers was just dumb. Felt like filler. I would rather have seen Fred hiding and writing options on a blank wall than that scene in the cave.

    Favorite bits:

    – The Holtz backstory – I wish we had more info on life in the Quor’toth

    – Open mic night was a series highlight for me

    – The cheesy “potluck” feel in fellowship hall. Lorne is such a cruise director.

    – The Oswald story.

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  13. [Note: MliMar posted this comment on March 5, 2013.]

    I saw some signs about Connor’s state of mind. When Fred shot Angel and he saw Jasmine for what she/it is Connor threw Angel across the counter and said to him “you ruined everything” It is obvious by this time, that Connor will never belong to Angel’s group. Most of them doesn’t like him and they tolerate him just because of Angel, who unfortunately is not a champion parent. With Cordy gone the offer of peace from Jasmine is what is left for Connor. I think it wasn’t even so much his planned decision to try to fit, more the only thing left. Jasmine also gave him the purpose, he is not just a mistake he is a miracle. And as long all others worship Jasmine all his past actions are somehow excusable. Also the group was nice to him under the spell and that I think made him truly happy.
    I don’t like the idea that Jasmine was behind the whole Angel plot. To me mistakes that heroes make are what make them more likable. I know that most of fans hated the Cordy/Connor sex scene, but for me it would be easier to cope if Cordy would make “a mistake” as it seem at the beginning. The idea that she was violated is much more disturbing .

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  14. [Note: Geki posted this comment on March 23, 2013.]

    There’s a symbolic little moment when Jasmine orders the book store burnt to the ground, too. A totalitarian leader ordering a book burning? Sounds pretty familiar.

    Like

  15. [Note: RadioWitch posted this comment on March 29, 2015.]

    There are not many things that prompt me to rewatch AtS S4, but I will admit that guitar virtuoso Zakk Wylde (from Ozzy Osbourne’s band and his own Black Label Society) randomly popping up in this episode during the “Jasmine” warbling to the tune of “Mandy” does make me smile. I enjoy these reviews, as always!

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  16. [Note: Summer posted this comment on October 19, 2015.]

    Wow this episode is way underrated. Guess you’re right about the hand eating demon part bit the rest of the episode is just so awesome. Fred vs the world and won back her team in the most believablle way. Kinda reminded me of Billy or Buffy’s Helpless, does not have to be all strong and mightly to win, easily make Fred my favourite character, but well, I have been avoiding Angel Show for awhile now because I had always thought of Angel as boring in Buffy (combine the fact that cordeilia and Wesley in it, such a disaster). To be fair, their characters in Buffy were so unlikeable. i ended up watching it for Amy Acker and found my opinion of Angel et al., changed gradually.

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  17. I’m running out of ways of saying how much I hate Connor. ALWAYS doing the wrong thing, ALWAYS going out of his way to endanger Angel. He’s in what, three more episodes? MAYBE I can tolerate him that much longer.

    Honestly, I hate a major character this much, and he plays such a big part in two seasons of a five season show. It’s a wonder I like this show.

    I did think at one point “Fred is used to this kind of thing after having to hide and skulk around Pylea for five years.” I had to use Fred’s backstory in my head.

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