[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: Steven S. DeKnight and Drew Goddard | Director: Jefferson Kibbee | Aired: 01/28/2004]
The plot of “Damage” exemplifies a bold move on the part of the Angel writers. When the potential of all the Slayers in the world was unlocked in “Chosen”, the act was displayed in a purely positive light – “Every girl who can stand up, will stand up.” Here, though, the idea of young women receiving newfound power is looked at from a rather different perspective. Dana, a mentally disturbed young woman confined to a hospital, is certainly not a person you’d want gaining enhanced strength and fighting abilities. But gain them she does, and the results are anything but pretty.
The plot “Damage” serves us is intriguing on its own, but that’s not the area where the episode excels. No, its primary attribute is the way it handles the character of Spike.
Not too long ago, I wrote a review of “Just Rewards” [5×02]. There, I talked about my disapproval of the way this series handled its introduction of Spike. I mentioned how it didn’t provide enough follow-up to Spike’s character arc on Buffy, and that it failed to give him enough personal depth, aiming for snark rather than serious study. As you may know, I wasn’t a great fan of the episode, but I am a pretty big fan of Spike. So it’s with some satisfaction that I now review an episode which picks up the pieces remaining from the finale of Buffy and gives Spike some much-welcome development.
I want to point out here that, although the fifth season of Angel could have worked just fine without Spike, I’m glad he was a part of it. While I miss Cordelia, I think Spike works well as her acerbic replacement, just as he did after she left Buffy. As the season moves forward, Spike is integrated into the Fang Gang very smoothly. This episode represents a key moment in that development.
At this point in the season, Spike is beginning to see himself as something of a soulful hero. After being approached by Lindsey (or “Doyle”) in “Soul Purpose” [5×10], he has taken it upon himself to begin fighting evil in Los Angeles, as some sort of “dark avenger”. Hey, doesn’t this sound a bit similar to Angel’s story in “City of” [1×01]? Clearly, there’s a connection to be made. Yet Spike refuses to acknowledge that his actions mirror any of Angel’s.
And the truth is, many of them don’t – Spike jumps at the chance to fight with this episode’s menace, the mentally unstable Slayer Dana, but Angel refuses to kill her. In “Destiny” [5×08], we saw Spike and Angel fight out their differences, and although that fight reached some sense of a conclusion, the two do not by any means accept each other. Spike, reflecting his constantly modern sensibilities, sees no reason to dwell on the past. This is evident in his response to Angel, who chides him for not attempting to atone for his past evils: “You should let it go, mate. It’s starting to make you look old.”
Spike is and always has been a fighter, but he’s not the kind to let emotions fuel his cause. He’s in it for the thrill, the adrenaline rush it gives him. It was this same thrill-seeking passion which fueled all those murders back in his pre-soul days. When Spike enters a fight with an ugly horned demon, he does so for the fun it causes. Angel, on the other hand, kills demons to make up for his past days of killing humans. The motives of the two vampires are quite contradictory, even if their methods are basically similar. So the question we’re left with is, which one of them is right?
It’s a question regarding not just Angel and Spike, but their respective souls as well. Angel sees himself and Angelus as a single being. For years, Angelus murdered innocents, for that was the only thing which brought him pleasure. It was only after he was cursed with a soul that he was able to realize what “pain” and “sorrow” meant. Burdened with those emotions, Angel used them to the fullest, and was haunted by the memories of those he killed for decades. Eventually, he found an outlet to channel these emotions — fighting evil.
Meanwhile, Spike sees his soulless and soulful selves as two separate individuals, and the wicked deeds of the former are not the burden of the latter. Now, is this a line of reasoning we can let him apply to himself? As we saw in “Fool for Love”, Spike chose to lose his soul and become a vampire. Perhaps he was unaware of the death and destruction such a choice would cause, but the consequences were brought about from his own willing decision. How can he now ignore his past evils so callously? Well, though he did choose to lose his soul, let’s not forget that he also chose to have it returned to him. This action now gives him a sense of genuine heroism – he looks down upon Angel, who had his soul and, as Spike sees it, desire for good forced upon him.
The difference between the two is a point fine-tuned but not forced into the argument they have while at the Wolfram & Hart offices. Angel brings up Spike’s past murders, to which the blond vampire straightforwardly replies, “I didn’t have a soul back then, did I?” Here, Spike uses his former lack of a soul as a sort of “fail-safe”, stating that anything he did back in those days was simply not his own fault. Angel sarcastically counters, “Right, because having one now is making such a difference.” With this line, Angel betrays his contempt of Spike, and of Spike’s soul. Angel disliked Spike when the latter vampire was evil, and he now dislikes the soulful Spike even more. Angel knows that soulless Spike did not have a choice when it came to committing evil – as stated earlier, he was a killer once himself. But soulful Spike has a choice, and chooses the path of seeming destruction.
Straddling the line between their argument comes Dana, the Slayer with murder on her mind. Dana fits right in to the conflict – she is, by all purposes, a human being, but she has been granted supernatural powers and is now quite visibly dangerous. Spike looks at the girl and sees a threat that needs to be taken out, while Angel looks at the same girl and sees an unfortunate young woman in need of help. Here, the motives of the two vampires are challenged, and their methods are against each other. More emphasis is put on Spike’s conflict, and the episode benefits from it.
Cleverly, “Damage” gives Spike a reason for atonement when he finally confronts Dana. He and she have never met before, and he resents her accusation that he is the man who tortured her and murdered her family. But just look at the number of murders he did commit in the past. Has he any right to feel that he’s been framed? Dana’s warped sense of judgment puts Spike’s past in perspective, and makes him pause and think and look back at the trail of destruction behind him. It’s a point that was hinted at during the final scene of “Just Rewards” [5×02] and brought to the surface here: Spike’s past will not simply evaporate into the air. He must own up to it and atone for all the damage he once caused. Just like Angel does.
In addition to this development, the episode finally brings up Buffy, and confronts Spike with the question of why he has not yet tried to contact her. Although he attempts to brush off this issue by stating that he doesn’t know how to break it to her, there’s more to it than that. Spike’s relationship with Buffy was anything but rosy, and he now exists in a world where she believes him to be dead. Spike now has to decide for himself whether it would be better – for him and for her – to keep it that way.
“Damage” exemplifies its turning point in Spike’s development quite well, and future episodes show him and Angel gaining a stronger (though far from perfect) alliance. For that alone, it deserves commendation. The episode, however, is not without flaws.
A problem that largely plagues the first half of the episode is the overabundance of exposition. Angel relates his concerns to his friends over what they should do with Eve in a scene that feels too much like a recap of the previous week’s events. The hospital’s doctor and an on-call nurse relate Dana’s backstory is to Angel in great detail, making her feel less like a character and more like a plot point. Andrew shows up and tells over the story of the Slayer line in a rather thin attempt on the writers’ part to get non-Buffy viewers up to speed. There’s lots of talk and little development – and that’s not an ideal combination.
Then there’s Andrew himself. Now, I liked the character in the last two seasons of Buffy, and it’s nice to see him again after the events of that series. (Again, the writers tickle us with the notion that the continuity of Buffy extends beyond its own show.) However, the episode would be far more effective had a different Buffy character been used, such as Willow, Xander, or Dawn. I’m not merely saying that because I prefer those characters over Andrew. It simply feels like the writers chose to use Andrew, and not a more prominent character from the series, in order to avoid dealing with a heavier form of drama. Had Willow or Xander showed up, there would most certainly be conflict between them and Spike over whether or not Buffy should be informed that he is still alive. Obviously, one of Buffy’s close friends would not keep such a secret from her, both out of loyalty for her and distrust for Spike. Andrew, however, is not a “close” friend of Buffy’s (and he seems to have a loving admiration and respect for Spike), so he’s able to comply when the vampire tells him to keep his mouth shut.
What irritates me more is the fact that Andrew could have had a truly great role in this episode. In Buffy’s “Storyteller”, Andrew acknowledged his past sins and decided he was willing to atone for them. From that perspective, his story is interestingly similar to Spike’s. Although Spike’s past is far darker than Andrew’s, it would have been nice for “Damage” to feature some sort of correlation between the two. Unfortunately, no comparison is made, and Andrew is treated as little more than the comic-relief nerd we’ve previously known him as. He actually offers more insight during his brief appearance in “The Girl in Question” [5×20] than he does here.
These, I confess, are mainly issues involving the episode’s missed potential – they’re not flaws in the episode itself. What is an episodic flaw, though, is the revelation that Andrew is now training to be a Watcher. Okay… Am I the only one who finds this to be a little preposterous? As we’ve seen on Buffy, and continue to see in this episode, Andrew is pretty shallow and self-glorifying. He doesn’t seem like a guy capable of training an army of young Slayers. Perhaps, as the writers seem to want us to believe, he’s grown to a more respectable position in the ranks of the Scoobies in the time since “Chosen”, but that’s not something that’s well-clarified in this episode. If anything, his “promotion” shines the rest of the Scoobies in a somewhat unflattering light.
Which brings me to my final issue: Why does no one on Buffy’s team trust Angel anymore? True, he’s now headlining the offices of Wolfram & Hart now, but they’ve known him for years before that event transpired. It seems callous of them to take Dana away from his control based on this reason alone. Buffy and Angel have established a trust with each other, even though they are no longer romantically involved. It’s pretty cold of her to brush him off without even giving him a chance to tell his side of the story!
I know Buffy took a much more “no-nonsense” approach to her slaying duties and to fighting the good fight over the course of Season 7. In “Lies My Parents Told Me”, she made it very clear to Robin Wood that she did not want him, or anyone, tampering with her plans to defeat the First Evil. But now Buffy is off in Europe, and there’s no Big Bad for her to defeat at the moment. Remember that only a few months back, in “Chosen”, she and Angel had a talk with one another in which she displayed confidence in him, confidence that he could act as a second front should she fail at stopping the First’s plans. Imagine her now in Europe, hearing the news that her former boyfriend has decided to start running an evil law firm. What would her reaction be?
Buffy shares a personal connection with Angel. She loved him like she loved no other man, before or since. (Sorry, Giles – I mean in the romantic way.) Yet we’re meant to believe that her reaction to such news is as one-sided as “Don’t trust him. Just get the Slayer. Use force if you have to”. We’re talking about the girl who gave Spike countless chances to redeem himself, despite many opportunities she could have taken to drive a stake through his heart. The girl who reaccepted Willow as a friend after she attempted to destroy the world. The woman who – well, you get the picture.
Andrew’s reason for the Scoobies’ distrust of Angel is stated simply: “You work for Wolfram & Hart now.” The line clearly hurts Angel, who expected – like myself – that Buffy would have a bit more trust in him. While I’m glad the writers are willing to point out that Angel is clearly straddling a line between good and evil at this point, this scene is hurt by the fact that it simply reiterates a point that Angel’s friends have themselves voiced when Angel first took the job in “Home” [4×22] – Wolfram & Hart is an evil place, no matter what sort of people are running their operations.
These issues aside, I can’t bring myself to fault “Damage” very much. As stated, it shines a glowing lamp of insight on Spike’s character, and affirms his position as a member of Angel’s team. Throw in some great fight scenes and an impending, gloomy backdrop, and you’ve got a pretty solid addition to the show’s canon. While certainly not without flaws, “Damage” is a worthy addition to Angel’s fifth season, and its importance to the show should not be overlooked.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Nice continuity touch: Spike asking Angel if he’s at the mental ward due to his encounter with the nightmare-inducing parasite from “Soul Purpose” [5×10].
+ Another nice continuity touch: Andrew still has trouble speaking Spanish.
+ The hospital nurse asking Angel if he could help her get a job at Wolfram & Hart.
+ Andrew hamming it up during his exposition scene. At least he makes it fun.
+ The horrific moment when Spike raises his hands, only to discover he no longer has them.
+ Eve is talked about and established as a threat, but never appears on screen. Too bad other episodes didn’t make use of this concept.
– While it has little connection to the story itself, I can’t help but be bothered by the fact that this whole episode probably never would have happened had a mixed-up nurse gotten Dana’s medication right. I believe the proper term for this is “idiot plot”.
– All those Vampire Slayers appearing behind Andrew. I don’t know who any of them are, yet they all managed to irritate me.