Angel, “Power Play”

One down, one to go. (originally posted – 5/12/04)

By Anthony Karcz
September 16, 2004

Time keeps on tickin’ as we come to the penultimate episode of Angel. But has Angel really turned to the Dark Side? Does Lindsay succeed in being smirkily vague? More importantly, does Busty Nina finally have her day in the sun? Read on, True Believer!

No posturing or board room hijinks this week — just a quick cut of some poor sap getting a royal beat-down from a Evil-Is-Us standard secret society (Our slogan — “Handing out ill-fitting robes and funny masks since the dawn of time!”) when, who busts through a doorway of fire, but our hero…who promptly vamps out and bites deep just as the victim is getting his thank yous out.

Well, it might not be a day in the sun, but Busty Nina does get a cheery morning after as she playfully looks for a stake (just in case Angel is “perfectly happy”) and banters with her favorite vamp about the wonders Cabo will do for one’s constitution. But already “the brow is back” as Angel plants the seeds of what he’s become, what he’s had to do. It’s your typical “I’ve done evil things to get where I am and I will do more” monologue, but coming from our champion, it holds a nice bit of weight. Over at the home office, Spike and Illyria kibitz about her virtual haunting of the hauls. Seems that since she’s become not-so-godly, no one will give her the time of day. Spike is kind enough to point out that it’s her resemblance (and ability to mimic) the dearly departed Ms. Burkle that can give her power over the Angel Inc. crew. Then it’s off to another “I’m turning EEEEEEvil!” moment, as Angel welcomes an (Eeeevil) US Senator (but, really, is there any other kind?) and has Harm scare up some human blood for her pet vamp (from the lab). Then, in quick succession, he tells Wes (but w/ Spike clearly in earshot) that he doesn’t give a rats tuckus about this Boritz demon that’s munching on innocents and then offers to help the Senator out with her policy platform of brainwashing her opponents into thinking they’re pedophiles. Evil, people…Evil!

While Wes is ruminating on the Boritz (who Spike & Big Blue have run off to bash…though not before a nice bit of Illyria worrying about Wes’ inattention to her), he’s given a juicy puzzle in the form of a circle of thorns. While Wes is off to find out what’s really up with Fearless Leader, we get a few more clues that something’s not quite right with Angel. He and, well, The Devil play racquetball (there’s a joke in there somewhere) and talk about “decisions” being made on Angel’s behalf. Then, when Wes tries to bust in and get down to the bottom of the Ring thing, who does he find Angel keeping counsel with but Agent Smith himself. Angel quickly boots Wes out, choosing to talk “business” with Hamilton over Wes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, first Spike and Illyria, in the process of tracking down Boritz demon, touch on the idea that maybe it’s not that Angel doesn’t sweat the small stuff anymore, it’s that the small stuff isn’t getting him what he needs — Power. Illyria plants the seeds of doubt in Spike, just as they come across Drogyn, left for dead by assassins sent by, none other than, Angel.

The crew gets together to hear Drogyn’s tale and, while they doubt the truth-sayer, find that it’s not outside the realm of possibility (as unstable as Angel has been of late). But it’s not until Lancelot mentions that Angel might have had something to do with Illyria’s release and Fred’s subsequent death, that the gang really perks up their ears. Spike tells Illyria to keep an eye on her jailer, shows her where the Crash Bandicoot can be played, and rides out with the rest to confront Angel. Of course, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Broody is having none of it. He quickly snubs Wes, et. al., telling them that their ideas of good and evil, dark and light, are merely simplifications of the bigger picture; that they are fooling themselves into playing a game that cannot be won. The only ones who win are the ones who created the game and its rules in the first place. Angel credits Wolfram and Hart for showing him that. What is love here is that this isn’t a hand-wringing, cacklingly evil speech — Angel is completely level-headed, acting sorry, even, for the people who just can’t see outside of the box.

With Angel being a dead end, they turn to the only other person in LA who knows enough about the big W&H to be of any use, Lindsay. It’s he of the twisty smirk and fluffy hair that lets them in on the secret of the (now not so) Secret Society — The Ring of Thorns. They’re the ones that are really pulling the strings, keeping the “wheels greased” so that the Sr. Partners’ pet Apocalypse goes off without a hitch. It’s the kind of thing that Angel could hope to get into only if he stopped caring about the little people and maybe killed of a Lieutenant or two (oh, wait, he’s in luck…). Meanwhile, one of those “little people,” Busty Nina (who manages to impress even through full-on business attire), gets a final send off from Angel. He’s cutting ties, giving her the tickets and telling her to get out of town, reminding her once more that, despite appearances, he’s not a nice guy.

Speaking of which, in a shabby apartment across town, prisoner and jailer thrash about with the Bandicoot a bit, Drogyn surmising that “it is a test!” and Illyria bemoaning that her newfound “human” nature keeps her playing even though it is “repetitive and annoying.” Lucky for her, just as she’s wishing she’d never been sprung, Hamilton comes crashing through the door, catches up with (and subsequently tosses) Drogyn, then proceeds to smash Illyria to bits. Then we’re back to the opening sequence where we find out that Angel’s victim is none other than the Truthsayer…who gets about two “Thank you”s out before Angel feeds off him and snaps his neck. Welcome to the club. Turns out, it’s all for Angel’s Eeeevil cotillion, his initiation to the Ring of Thorns (where the Fell brotherhood, some familiar demon royalty, a not-so-human US Senator, and Connor’s brainwasher all hang out). And before you can say “Ah-HA!” Mr. Devilin sidles up and commends Angel on the turn out — all the power players are there; and Angel makes sure he marks each one to memory.

You know the score by now, right? Angel gets jumped in the office by the team, who are determined to convince him to renounce the circle, only to have Angel throw a bit of a whammy so that they can talk freely. He reveals that Cordy gave him more than a tounge-lashing. As with Doyle before her, the kiss passed along the Visions; or, Vision, to be precise. There was one left, one that gave Angel the pieces of the puzzle to find the true Evil on Earth. Fighting against the Sr. Partners is fruitless — they will always exist in some way, shape, or form. But their Ring of Thorns is where they are vulnerable, where their existence can be made miserable. If the Ring crumbles, so does their foothold in our world. Determined not to let Fred die in vain, Angel put the wheels in motion to make it look like he was behind everything, that he’s been betraying his troops to gain power. One fairly predictable vote later, and the gang’s all in for one last run up the beach to “Kill them all and bring down the house with us still in it.” But who’s watching all this, but Marcus Hamilton — who may see through the glamour, maybe doesn’t; but certainly is up to very little good.

While pretty darn predictable, I still loved this ep. The idea of Angel being evil all on his own, without having to bring out Angelus, is a powerful theme to use in the Buffyverse. Angel is the ultimate Champion. He is the protector and the avenger. For that to be twisted to something else is nothing short of devastating for the Angel Inc. crew. That said, I thought that Wes and the rest bought the idea a little too quickly. Maybe they really did suspect that Angel was up to something else…it would explain why they didn’t come up with a better plan than “Let’s run at him with weapons!” when they went to take him down. There’s some wonderfully devastating bits in here. Illyria’s fate is deeply uncertain; but seeing her taken down so soon after she’s been introduced is a shame (even if the show is going away); I hope that she sticks around to blame Hamilton — can’t wait to see that guy get what he has coming. I was also disappointed that the Nina angle hasn’t been played a little more this season. For Angel to go from “wanna have breakfast?” to “wanna stay over and have breakfast?” in such a short time doesn’t seem like him. Then again, maybe it’s his way of telling the Ring that he doesn’t care if Angelus comes out to play or not, he’s doing whatever the hell he wants. I always start looking for triple and quadruple-crosses when these types of plots play out (I can never just accept that the Evil Secret Society falls for the Hero’s “I’m Eeeevil, like you!” bit); but I’m hoping that we’re done with the mind games. Next week, it’s down to the wire, and I want to see the Sr. Partners burn.

Oh yeah, and someone ain’t making it out of the series alive (or, maybe, still dead?).

Tune in next week to see our musings on the beginning of the end (or, I guess, the end of the end?). The Entertainment Geekly crew reminisces about our favorite eps and moments, talks about who’s hot and who’s not among the Angel crew, and even dips into a little mano-e-mano action! Adios Angel coverage starts next Tuesday. See you there.