[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?
* 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.