[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Ben Edlund | Director: Bill Norton | Aired: 10/29/2003]
Well… one thing I can easily say about “Life of the Party” is that it’s most definitely not the life of Season 5. In what’s probably the weakest episode of the fifth season, and one of the weakest in all of Angel, the writers come to the realization that Lorne needs some attention, which is a great thing in of itself. The question, then, is why they couldn’t think up anything more creative than this. Why does Lorne always seem to get the writers’ room backwash plots?
Lorne, from the start, hasn’t been a character to ever get much attention. He’s generally been used as a tertiary character that other characters bounce off of, even in the character’s heyday (Season 2). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve generally enjoyed his presence and quips, but he’s fundamentally a shallow character with a lot of untapped potential. Even worse: Take this lack of depth and then add Angel’s mind wipe in “Home” [4×22] to it. At this point in time I have absolutely no clue what Lorne’s about anymore. Is he still the non-judgey guy who gives advice to all who need it, good or bad? Or has he been turned into something else altogether? I still don’t understand why he agreed to the Wolfram & Hart (W&H) position. He knows that working for the company will likely do more harm than good, and he knows how shady show business can be from his time in Las Vegas (“The House Always Wins” [4×03]). I also think he’s read enough lawyers from the firm to know what they’re all about.
Yet here we are. Worse is that Lorne’s all the sudden showing some kind of trauma underneath his seemingly impenetrable veneer. Are there any hints of this prior to this episode? There weren’t any that I could find. I guess I just don’t buy all of this. I don’t buy Lorne working for W&H; I don’t buy his sudden need to remove his sleep; I don’t buy that he’s even a relevant piece of the show anymore. What all of this adds up to is that I can’t buy into the very core of what this episode is about. Lorne does his best to make the case that he’s relevant to Angel and, by extension, the show itself, but I’m sadly just not feeling it.
All of this brings me to the opening scene. We’ve got Lorne in his usual high-octane upbeat mood coordinating all kinds of happenin’s with various celebrities. All seems fine until he gets into his room, the music abruptly stops, and he is led into to a dire encounter with his mirror. Although I appreciate the juxtaposition between the exterior world and interior world within Lorne’s mind, I can’t say I’m particularly invested in the drama. Why is this? Well, for me it goes back to the lack of build-up and long-term investment in the character. This is really on the backs of the whole writing team for not giving Lorne much of a forward-looking story of his own, which I would have very much welcomed.
“Life of the Party” does sport one — if only one — scene that is able to make me care a bit. That’s the one in the Limo where Angel shows some actual empathy in realizing that Lorne actually cares, personally, about the Wolfram & Hart Halloween bash at the office. This spurs some genuine sentiment out of Lorne in which he reveals that doing well at being head of Angel’s PR department is about the only thing he’s good for anymore (and here I thought Lorne was ‘Entertainment Director’). This is a good scene, no doubt, but it still lacks much context to fully resonate with me.
In a way this plot – where Lorne removes his sleep and is imparting his will on those around him — reminds me a little of Buffy Season 4’s “Something Blue,” in which a heartbroken Willow casts a spell to have her will be done that totally backfires: only things she says about others actually come true. The key differences between these episodes are that, well, the former is actually quite funny, but more importantly it has long-lasting character relevance for Willow. Can the same be said about Lorne here? The answer is ‘no,’ but more on the ‘why’ in a moment.
It’s at around the halfway point of the episode – when the party itself starts — where “Life of the Party” sheds all pretense of relevance and makes that impressive transition from kind of pointless and lackluster to outright tedious and annoying. Let’s see what we’ve got here: the silly side plot involving the Arch Duke thinking Angel killed his minion and… well, that’s about all that actually happens. Due to Lorne accidentally putting everyone under his ‘spell,’ Angel and Eve have loads of pointless sex, Wesley and Fred act super annoying because they’re faux-drunk , Spike is forced to have a great time (why couldn’t Lorne spell me too?), and Gunn is left ‘marking his territory.’
I suppose I’ll admit to a bit of juvenile amusement over Gunn peeing everywhere and Spike being so damned excited about absolutely everything, but it all serves no purpose and doesn’t enrich our understanding of the characters, or even how the characters view each other. To return to the Willow comparison, the nature of how each person was spelled in “Something Blue” was a reflection of how she viewed them. This is an important distinction, because it spoke to issues several characters were dealing with at the time while also commenting on Willow’s recurring habit of trying to use magic to solve her problems. With Lorne in “Life of the Party” all we get are superficial comments about the staff not enjoying an obnoxious demon party and needing to loosen up a bit. Where one episode with this sort of plot wildly succeeds, the other utterly fails.
There’s even a prolonged scene where Wesley tells Fred that he wishes they would have become better friends by now. Although this sentiment is always nice to hear, why does this scene get dragged on for so long? Nothing being said by either of them is new; this is just rehashing old frustrations, and not in a particularly subtle way. Earlier in the episode we actually see a little bit of conflict between Wesley’s confidence in the quality of his team’s magic and Fred’s confidence in her team’s science in regard to a device Angel tried to use that failed to activate. I have to say, that was an interesting conflict, and it’s a real shame it is never built upon in future episodes. Instead we have to endure more sighs from Wesley as Knox continuously sends obnoxiously obvious flirts at Fred that she seems to be bafflingly buying.
If the Wesley and Fred scene finding Lorne’s sleep lacked novelty and subtlety, “Life of the Party” definitely knows how to one-up it. Enter LorneHulk. Proceed with a handful of roars and punches. Exit LorneHulk in a wave of confetti. Wait, what show am I watching? Thankfully for me, it at least didn’t go on for too long. But is any of this actually funny? I think it’s obvious that I sure didn’t think so.
In the end, what exactly is the moral of this story? That Lorne tries too hard to be the ‘life’ of the group? That there are dangers not only on the outside, but also from within their inner circle? Is any of this not extremely obvious already (not to mention redundant), and is it worthy of an entire episode devoted to it? I’ll just say ‘no’ and ‘no;’ hence why I think that just about wraps up all that’s left to talk about here.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Spike getting tangled with Lorne in one of those ‘dance walks,’ and then shaking his head in frustration.
+ Angel asking if everyone thinks he’s throwing this party so he can kill them all. Now that’s funny.
+ Harmony being the very first person to get with the dancin’.
+ Angel fake-brooding so he can watch hockey in his office alone.
+ One of the Arch Duke’s minions wearing a coat made of Pylean. That’s suitably disturbing! 😉
+ Wesley waiting for the elevator until Fred reminds him that he never actually pushed the button.
+ Eve’s pathetic attempt to hide her discontent at being mystically forced to have sex with Angel. Not particularly interesting, but at least she shows some reaction.
+ Spike’s real amusement at the fact that Gunn peed in Angel’s chair.
– Eve always trying so hard to be vaguely sexual with Angel. This episode, of course, forces the characters to drop the pretense. Yay?
– Lorne saying that every good party he’s ever been to was a “blood bath.” I don’t know, but that doesn’t really feel like something Lorne would say.
– The Arch Duke’s food minion often mumbling silly things. I do like the expression on his face during Angel’s meeting at the mansion though.
– Lorne telling Fred and Wesley they’re not having fun at the party because they’re not drunk. Sigh.
* The Arch Duke is a key member of the Circle of the Black Thorne, which will become more relevant at the very end of the season. The method Angel uses to kill him is even zoomed in on in the scene where Angel meets him. There’s also mention of the Fell Brotherhood.