[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Tim Minear | Director: Tim Minear | Aired: 05/07/2003]
Before I sat down to watch “Home” again for this review, I recalled having a largely positive impression of the episode. It contained no more Jasmine, Lilah’s return, a fun plot twist, Wesley being awesome, some pounding drama, and a bittersweet ending. What’s not to love? Well, after looking a lot more closely at it, there’s plenty not to love. Not to sound too disparaging I will say that I still love most of what’s on that list of positives I laid out. “Home” definitely offers plenty to enjoy. But, unfortunately, a deeper reading of the episode leaves me in a far more unsettled place than I originally anticipated.
With the exception of “Not Fade Away” [5×22], none of the season finales on Angel are particularly brilliant. Maybe Buffy spoiled my pants off, but every time I get to an Angel finale there’s always a bit of a letdown. “Home” juggles quite a few different threads, and not all them mesh together as well as I’d have liked. As interested as I am in what’s wrong with Connor, for example, his story here feels out of tone from everything going on over at Wolfram & Hart. I’d call this an example of my broadest issue with the episode. The real problems lie in the details though.
It all begins with a wonderful little segment that basks in Lilah’s brief return. It’s a treat how this scene is played. Now, with me being me, the first time I saw this scene I had actually the opposite reaction. It was something like, “oh come on! Keep dead people dead, please!” Now my feelings lie somewhere in between. Personally, I never cared for the whole Wolfram & Hart perpetuity clause, as it always rubbed me as a cheap way for the writers to bring back past dead characters any time they wanted to. Fortunately this has been used only sparingly (Holland Manners and now Lilah, if I recall), and the dead don’t seem to stick around for very long it seems, but it still takes me out of emotional reality of the world the writers are trying to create. They really should have stuck with the Buffy law that you can’t bring back people — as they were — that died a natural (i.e. non-supernatural) death. If you tried, they’d come back as deformed visages of what they used to be, or simply zombies (a la Zombie Joyce in “Forever”).
This objection aside, I did enjoy this sequence, and am pleased with what they do with one last opportunity to utilize Lilah. It’s, necessarily, a little bit exposition heavy, but the gang’s reaction to what Lilah has to say combined with her usual biting wit comes off as a breath of fresh air after all the apocalyptic plot-heavy chaos that often plagued Season 4. I just love the complete and utter disbelief — the minute of silence — that is their reaction to the news that Wolfram & Hart has offered them their Los Angeles branch.
Despite how fun and wacky the concept of this is, and I do enjoy it on that level, I have to take a moment to think about whether this makes a lick of sense from a story and character perspective. The truth is, I’m just not convinced that Wolfram & Hart would actually do this, nor am I convinced Angel’s team would agree to it. It feels far more like a writer’s move rather than something that seems necessitated by the characters and their respective journeys. When Fred eventually tip-toes out of the hotel towards the limo and meets up with everyone else, I just don’t feel that this is something these people would be seriously considering.
Now, I understand that some of them have a good reason to take the tour. Angel is hopelessly looking for Connor and Cordelia, Wesley’s trying to free Lilah from her eternal prison, Gunn’s unsure of who he is altogether and seems simply curious and, well, both Lorne and Fred aren’t really characters with enough depth to them for me to even speculate as to what their motives could be. With the possible exception of Gunn, none of these motives are reasons to actually stay there beyond the tour. Take the tour and try to use the situation to their advantage? Sure. But actually agree to the deal? Come on. Not that anyone explicitly agrees to the deal – Angel does that for them. Lots more on that later!
Season 4 was filled with melodrama that only rarely felt earned. It’s my understanding that at this time in the show’s run there were a lot of external pressures on the show to keep it on air. One of the compromises for a fifth season was to accept a budget cut and to make the show more stand-alone. Knowing this while listening to Lilah’s offer causes me to, unfortunately, see the writers’ hand far too clearly in the story. Did Angel need a change of pace and location after all the craziness of the last couple seasons? Sure, I can see several good arguments for that. But this particular move felt too calculated for me, despite some of the great things that came out of the concept in Season 5. With all that said, I do love the idea that Wolfram & Hart says ‘thanks’ to the gang for ending Jasmine’s happy slave state, which puts them in a very awkward and funny spot.
It turns out that the core of “Home,” from a character standpoint, is very representative of my feelings on the show as a whole up to this point. Let’s do a brief rundown on how each major character is treated by the episode. To start with, we’ve got Fred and Lorne. Fred gets tempted by an offer to lead a cutting-edge science laboratory. She meets Knox, and that’s about all Fred has to do in the episode. Lorne? Well, he gets lured away by a bunch of famous people on a list, and then ends the episode singing joyously about wanting to work for Wolfram & Hart. Do I have a good grasp on Lorne and Fred as people right now? Not in the slightest. Both characters have been under-developed for the past two seasons, and I can certainly feel the effect of that here.
What about Gunn? Well, Gunn’s whole journey in this episode is specifically about the fact that both he and the writers don’t know what to do with him. Wesley? Well, per usual, we get a complex character doing something both exciting and nuanced. And then we have Angel, who is doing what he feels is right and making giant decisions for everyone around him without their knowledge or consent. All of that is true in “Home,” and all of that is true up to this point in the series. This is all to say that I consistently wish Angel handled its characters better overall, because they’ve all got a lot of potential but are all too rarely given juicy development to work with. But enough generalizations already; let’s get into the thick of the details. I’ll start with Gunn, migrate to Wesley, and then wrap up with Connor and Angel.
When Gunn goes on ‘the tour’ with his flirty guide he’s about as clueless as the audience is in why Wolfram & Hart have any particular interest in him. At one point they walk by a security office and it’s not surprising that this is where Gunn thinks his stop is. Throughout the season he has consistently looked at himself as only “the muscle.” He doesn’t seem to think he’s good at much of anything else, and that’s something I don’t think is true. We’ve seen glimpses of him breaking out of that mold and being comfortable with himself. Seeing him all dressed up and enjoying the ballet back in “Waiting in the Wings” [3×13] and blending in nicely at an upper scale party in “Players” [4×16] both showed (among other examples) that he has a lot of potential to be much more, if that’s what he really wants for himself. As Gwen says to him in “Players” [4×16], “I need a suave guy who can handle himself in a tight spot,” and the episode then proves he’s capable of becoming that all by his lonesome. I don’t mind Gunn’s central character issue, but it’s just so rarely developed and he’s got nothing else going for him. Even sadder is that even he thinks he’s not cut out for more without special help, and that’s truly unfortunate.
To me, the reasoning behind this is mostly attributed to the fact that the writers never really had a handle on the character and are simply at loss with what to do with him. When looking back on his entire journey from “War Zone” [1×20] onward, all that’s really there is ‘letting go of his old neighborhood to fight for a vampire’ and ‘am I just the muscle?’ A fairly superficial relationship with Fred and a consistent bitterness with Wesley over that relationship are thrown in as distractions, but the underlying simplicity of his character arc cannot by hidden, and I think the writers knew this. What they do with him in Season 5 is a cheap way to shake up the character. While I don’t particularly like how the writers got Gunn to this place, I won’t deny that his Season 5 arc is far more compelling than anything he’s been given before.
Gunn’s scene in the White Room is at least somewhat interesting though. I mean, it’s very light on content, but I like the sort of spiritual calm that comes over him as he comes to an understanding with whatever power exists there. I also appreciate the foreshadowing of Gunn being more at internal war than ever before when we see a reflection of him in each eye of the ‘big cat.’ In Season 5, we’ll see Gunn literally fighting himself in that very White Room. Here in “Home,” though, nothing of his future is tangible.
Wesley, on the other hand, is nothing but tangible. He has tangible motives and a tangible end to his relationship with Lilah. The one thing that’s not so tangible is why he accepts Angel’s decision that they all work at Wolfram & Hart, particularly after Lilah spent several episodes trying to lure Wesley to work for the company to no avail not too long ago. I guess I’ll just have to chalk it up to the newfound memory loss. Thanks, Angel! His reason for taking the tour, though, is quite moving and true to character. Even before the tour, actually, as the quick barbs between them return almost immediately. Lilah tells him, “it’s okay lover, I never felt a thing.” Wesley’s response, “I’m sure that’s true,” actually causes a faint hint of hurt in Lilah’s eyes signifying that it’s, in fact, probably not true, at least in regard to their relationship.
During the tour Wesley meets Sirk, who he quickly deduces is a former Watcher before punching him out so he can sneak his way to the Wolfram & Hart archives to find Lilah’s contract. I love his single-minded determination to help Lilah and, of course, his overall awesomeness. When he finally makes it there and finds the contract, the two of them share one final corker of a scene together. Wesley discovers that he can’t destroy the contract — it’s self-replicating and eternal! Crap!
The pain on both of their faces at this reality really gets to me. Lilah was genuinely moved that Wesley attempted this and, for a change, isn’t coy about that fact. A more subtle point underlying what Wesley discovers turns out to also be a consistent theme in the Buffyverse: actions have consequences. As Lilah said, she knew what she was signing up for. Now she must accept the consequences of her poor choices in life. Although I find Lilah an interesting character and was really rooting for one of those gradual shifts to the brighter side of the moral landscape, I can’t ignore the choices she made and the evils she committed — all, may I remind you, as a human being with a soul. Does she ‘deserve’ the severity of punishment she’s going to be getting? Well, that’s not for me to decide. But, while I’m sad her life got cut short before she had the opportunity to turn things around, I can’t say she didn’t know what she was getting herself into.
I will truly miss the notable presence Lilah had on the show and, particularly, her ever-evolving and fascinating relationship with Wesley. That was one hell of a combination, and one I frankly wouldn’t have minded seeing a lot more of. Have I mentioned that I wasn’t a fan of the decision to let Cartoon Cordelia kill her? Sigh. This scene is the high point of the episode for me – I love it unconditionally.
Although ‘All Things Wesley’ is always the preferred place to be on Angel, I have to admit that the end of Connor’s story was actually quite moving too. In “Peace Out” [4×21] Angel tells the gang, re Connor, that “I’ve never seen him like this. He wasn’t hurt or angry, he just… killed her. And his face, it—it was just blank, like he had nothing left.” The Jasmine arc is the last straw — or lie — for Connor’s life as it was. It all comes crashing down on him in the pain that is all too abundant in this world of ours. Free will has never felt so horrible for these characters. All of this is, of course, setup for what Connor does here in “Home.”
There’s an interesting little scene slipped in early with a cop on a rooftop. This guy is overwhelmed by the loss of Jasmine’s love, and initially Connor shows him sympathy. But after Connor tells him to go home, the officer remembers he had a family and pulls out a photo of them. This moment is effective in two ways. First, it symbolizes the terrifying scope of Jasmine’s influence. This man appears to have entirely forgotten about his family in Jasmine’s wake. Second, it ignites Connor, who has been trying to hold onto any kind of genuine connection his entire life. So it makes sense why he is repeatedly agitated at the slightest hint of a false gesture of affection between people.
I want to take a moment here to say that the Jasmine arc has some intriguing things to say in regard to the concept of free will, the nature of humanity, and organized religion. My thoughts on these messages are complex and far reaching, but wholly out of place in a discussion of “Home.” I’ll just say that while I think Whedon makes a lot of good points, I don’t entirely agree with all of his conclusions. That’s definitely a discussion for one of the Jasmine episodes, or the forums.
Connor’s centerpiece scene, all season really, is between him and Angel in that sports store. This also happens to be the emotional centerpiece of the entire episode. When I first saw that Connor was in a sports store of all places, it felt extremely out of place. This just isn’t the sort of setting I’m used to seeing on Angel and, at first glance, it’s a pretty strange place to have a dramatic stand-off with hostages rigged with explosives. But then I started thinking about it a little more and realized that maybe it’s actually the perfect place for Connor’s old life to end. This place represents everything Connor never got the option to have. It reminds him what his life has been like, even back in our dimension: no consistent family unit; no games; no sports; no hope; no light; no future. This kid has had a horrible life on the scale of which is genuinely hard for me to even imagine. And without any consistent friend or family that’s been looking out for him, who’s going to be there to help him when he needs it?
Now, I truly do believe that Angel wants to be there for Connor, and always has. But it’s just too late, or so Connor believes (I personally believe it’s never too late to turn things around). There has just been too much deception; too many betrayals; too much fighting; too much chaos for him to believe in a bright future for himself. As much as I like to occasionally question the acting and the writing around Connor, I don’t question the fact that I still feel for what he’s gone through, and sympathize with his situation. One question to ask is ‘why rig Cordelia with explosives too?’ I think the answer to that boils down to the fact that, even though real Cordelia wasn’t in the driver’s seat, Connor still feels betrayed by her — that she somehow allowed all this to happen, wasn’t by his side like she promised, and that maybe her proclaimed love for him was also a lie.
This whole background is what makes the conversation between Connor and Angel so emotionally charged for me. At first Angel thinks this is all just Connor being devastated over Jasmine’s false love, but it turns out the situation is far worse than that. Connor not only knew about Jasmine’s true identity from the start, but he also felt absolutely none of that magical Apple-style love that washed over everyone else. Rather than looking at this pragmatically — after all, he is her ‘father’ and that’s probably why he could see her true nature — Connor takes it personally, thinking that he’s not even capable of feeling love. That’s also what makes his little jab at Angel all the more pointed: “Heh. I guess I really am your son. ‘Cause I’m dead too.” Ouch.
When Angel tries to apologize for not being there during Connor’s upbringing, Connor angrily yells back “do not say you’re sorry!” More telling, though, is the somber and knowing follow-up, “it doesn’t fix anything.” It’s clear that Connor accepts Angel’s apology — it just doesn’t have meaning anymore. Connor claims that Angel didn’t love him enough to prevent Holtz from taking him away, and this is where Connor steps into self-indulgent territory. It’s still totally understandable, but it’s also entirely unfair to Angel, particularly with the way time moves differently in hell dimensions. There’s really not much else Angel could have done to prevent the outcome that happened.
Connor goes on to say that “there’s only one thing that ever changes anything. And that’s death.” While that’s a pretty fatalistic viewpoint, it’s one that has some legitimacy, at least for those left behind. It often takes great pain, tragedy, and sometimes even death to get people to really evaluate their lives – mind, body, and soul, and the choices therein — and to actually make active changes for the better. Sometimes, even those changes are fleeting. It takes someone of strong character to really look inside, identify the damaging influences, and then make a change that sticks. I don’t believe it has to be death that sparks this process, but for some people it often does.
Connor’s right when he says that “you can’t be saved by a lie.” One of life’s biggest struggles is building a family around you that genuinely cares about you and your well-being. Some people don’t get that out-of-the-box, from their blood relatives, like they should, and that’s truly a shame. In these situations, it’s important to build a surrogate family of good friends and colleagues to lean on and, hopefully, one day have the strength to build a strong family of their own and break the cycle of loneliness, abuse, and neglect, thereby starting a new family tradition that will last generations. But, sadly, Connor has given up.
When Connor asks Angel to “prove” his love by killing him, and Angel appears to do it, I’m a bit torn. I get the impression that Angel has already made the deal with Wolfram & Hart to give Connor new memories and a different family. If he hadn’t yet, then that would put this moment in a very different light. But did Connor have to ‘die’ to get the spell to work? Did Angel just do it to grant his son one final wish? Regardless, I think Angel believed he was doing this to save Connor, despite the fact that what we see at the end of the episode isn’t the Connor we – or even Angel — knew. This is a truly bittersweet end to Connor’s life as we knew it. For Connor, it’s pretty much entirely bitter though, as only Angel gets any satisfaction out the deal. Kudos to both actors in this scene though — they really nailed it.
And now we move onto Angel. Oh Angel. I think what best sums up my thoughts about Angel in “Home” is what he says early on to Gunn: “You want to get into that limo when it gets here? That’s up to you. It’s not a decision I can make for you, for any of you, but know this: before the ride’s even over, before you even cross through their doors, you’ll be corrupted.” Now let’s fast forward to the end of the episode: “I already took it. Executive decision.” Really, Angel? Really? But wait, it gets worse! Fred then asks, “Who’s Connor?” Angel talks a big talk, but when push comes to shove he really seems to have no problem with doing just that: making executive decisions for other people. Whether it’s something he forces onto someone — remember what he did to Buffy in “I Will Remember You” [1×08] — or something he does that significantly impacts the lives of those closest to him, Angel shows a consistent disregard of their opinion and, how ironic is this, their free will.
As is quickly becoming obvious, I have some major issues with Angel’s behavior in this episode, and they are issues that run through who Angel is at his core. I’m not sure whether to rejoice or recoil from the fact that he is being entirely in character while doing what he does in this episode. I’m just getting started on picking apart Angel, but I will say that “Home” still manages to elicit genuine sympathy for him in his plight to help Connor from his own self destruction, and that this plight does help inform the motivation behind this particular decision. But there’s a big gap between something being understandable and something being acceptable.
First, though, let’s back up a bit and discuss Lilah’s sales pitch to Angel. One thing that concerned me a bit was to hear Lilah giving Angel the same speech, almost word-for-word, that he gave Connor back in “Deep Down” [4×01]. How in the heck would Lilah know what Angel told his son in private? This rubbed off as far too writerly for my tastes. Lilah’s argument, though, that the world doesn’t need an “unyielding champion,” but rather someone who can compromise and beat the system from “within the belly of the beast,” is certainly a compelling one, but one that all-too obviously can’t be trusted. I appreciate the setup and how this very argument thematically sets up the first half of Season 5.
Angel didn’t take the tour to discuss the finer points of how he can do the most good, though, and Lilah knows it. He wants intel on where Connor and Cordelia are, but it turns out that the intel finds him. Seeing Connor on that screen holding up a store is not a surprise at this point to us, but it’s still a bit of a shocker to Angel. Although we don’t know for sure what Angel means until the end of the episode when he says “I will never be a part of this. Not the way you’re hoping. Now let me tell you what the deal’s gonna be,” it’s really here, with Lilah, that he makes the giant decision for Connor and all of the people he claims to be friends. Let me just express how utterly unacceptable this is — repugnant even. I totally get Angel’s motivation here — to give Connor a clean slate, to have the best chance at reviving Cordelia, and maybe even buying into the thought that he can actually impart change from within — but was wiping everyone’s memory of Connor, and the associated events that happened around him, really necessary? Did Lilah demand this, or did Angel request it? It is total overkill and entirely unnecessary either way.
There are people out there who talk about how offensive it was over on Buffy that the monks that created Dawn altered the memories of everyone they needed to so they could insert her into Buffy’s life and protect the Key. I agree that what those monks did was reprehensible, even if the motives behind it were also understandable. But there’s a huge difference between what those guys — who are not, note, the lead character of the show — did and what Angel does here. With Dawn, the Scoobies’ memories were tampered with, yes, but they are added to rather than fundamentally changed. Everyone discovered what the truth was within a few episodes of everything changing, too, whereas here on Angel we’re looking at people who are fundamentally different than the people we knew before Connor was ripped out of their memories. Wesley, for example, isn’t even remotely the same person he was before this happened. He’s effectively reverted back to the person he was before “Sleep Tight” [3×16], which was well over a year before.
With the Dawn comparison, no information about their lives was lost. Everything that happened on Buffy up until Dawn’s arrival still happened — every emotion; every event. New memories were simply added on top of what was already there to create a place for Dawn in their home and hearts. This is fundamentally different than what Angel does here with Connor. Angel’s team aren’t the same people they were anymore. That’s the big difference. And it’s a huge one, not only for the characters, but for the show as a whole. We now have to essentially re-learn who these people are next season. Our connection with all of them, sans Angel, is shattered. This bothers me quite significantly. Is it in character for Angel? Absolutely. Is it a horrible move for the show? Yes.
All of this makes me look at Angel as a person in far less esteem, and it creates problems for the start of Season 5. The first time I saw the scene at the very end of the episode, it struck me as bittersweet. But now, I find it a little more on the disturbing side. Seeing Connor as a well-adjusted kid looking forward to his future, with a loving family around him, is a real joy to see, no doubt. But this feeling quickly fades by realizing that the person inside that home that looks like Connor isn’t actually Connor — it’s some construct made by a demon that is in Connor’s body. As if we haven’t seen enough of that this season. Maybe something of Connor’s original self, or soul, is still locked away in there, but don’t mistake Angel’s actions as a gift to Connor – he did this for himself.
In a way, Angel ends up proving Connor’s point that the only truth is death. Angel’s living a lie with this fantasy in which he can be at peace over Connor. I really want to be there with Angel, smiling at the happy family dinner scene, which itself is a direct reference to his hallucinated dinner scene in “Deep Down” [4×01]. I think Angel really believes that he’s done some noble thing for Connor, and that he’s the one that has to suffer exclusion from this happy family. But, in reality, is this moment not simply another hallucination? I think it is, personally, and it betrays Connor’s most basic wish in life: to end the constant lies. It’s not until “Origin” [5×18] where reality gets to come crashing back down and we get our characters back with their original memories and will intact. It’s not until then that all these lies are finally rectified. And how ironic is it that it will be Wesley that will be the one to do it. God, I feel so very bad for Wesley, who is almost certainly the biggest victim of Angel’s actions.
To bring this to a close, I’ll say that I enjoyed most of “Home.” There were some great character beats, the Wolfram & Hart twist is wacky fun albeit not entirely believable, and it certainly gave me a truckload to think about. On the other hand, Angel drove me up a wall while Fred, Gunn, and Lorne were left out to dry. I may find Angel’s motivations understandable, and I may sympathize with his helplessness to make things right for Connor, but I find his memory wipe decision really tough to swallow. “Home” is a solid book-end thematically to what was stirred up in “Deep Down” [4×01], and it serves as a decent end to a crazy season, but at the end of the day it just doesn’t quite pull it all together for me.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ That panning shot across Lilah’s upper face when Angel says “she’s still dead” is fabulously creepy.
+ How Stephanie Romanov plays that “lifetime” line in the opening. Hilarity perfectionized!
+ It’s nice to see Gunn showing Wesley a little sympathy over seeing Lilah again.
+ The way Fred hugs that assault rifle like it’s a teddy bear is quite amusing.
+ Although obviously convenient for the Angel production team, I still really love the necro-tempered glass.
– I know Whedon loves to reuse actors, and I love that loyalty, and Jonathan Woodward is a fine actor, but casting him as Knox — a recurring character — on a show that shares the same universe as Buffy, where he very memorably appeared as Holden Webster in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] during the same year is just too much suspension of disbelief for me. He sounds the same, looks the same, and I just don’t buy it.
– Fred walking into the science lab and seeing what looks like a freaking portal opening up, and instead of jumping a little she gives off an excited “WOW.” Not the best use of continuity there.