Angel Investigations: In the Dark

My rate of writing posts is rapidly falling behind my rate of watching episodes. I’m trying to crank these out, but I also don’t want to swamp the blog with Angel- related material at the expense of other stuff, especially for those of you who haven’t seen Angel and don’t give two hoots about it (shame on you, btw). It’s actually been over a week since I last saw “In the Dark,” so let’s hope my memory is more or less intact.

There’s lots of potential topic of discussion for this episode, but I’d like to focus in on 2: Spike and the Ring of Amarra. I’ll give other observations at the end.

William the Bloody, Spike, Blondie Bear, Captain Peroxide

Spike

Oh, Spike. Spike, Spike, William the Bloody Spike… What are we to do with you? The guy is pretty much a walking disaster area. This alternatively has the effect of making him really dangerous and making him look like a total doofus. Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), the latter trait was dominant in this episode. Remember, I had not seen Buffy when I first saw this episode, so I was somewhat bemused at the fact that everyone was making such a big deal about Spike showing up in town when he turned out to be utterly…not threatening. Dorky. Impotent, even. I can see how he would be seen as both funnier and more dangerous if one were familiar with the Buffy backstory, but to me he just seemed lame. (I hasten to say that I have grown to love Spike dearly, and I even think he’s one of the best characters ever written for television, but this episode just lacked that Spike flair.)

I think the biggest problem with his presentation in this episode was actually Marcus. They needed Angel to kill the bad guy/get the ring at the end, but they couldn’t kill off Spike, so they used this semi-villain to split the difference. The problem is that it made both Spike and Marcus only half-villains. It didn’t really make sense for Spike to hire a torturer. He’s William the Bloody for goodness sake, and he hates Angel’s guts– you’d think he’d jump at the chance to torture his grandsire. But no, he hires a torturer. A torturer who plays Chopin. This serves not only to make Spike seem moronic, but non-threatening as well. Part of Spike’s appeal is that he’s clever and dangerous (even with a chip in his head he was a constant potential threat), but this episode neutered him on both counts. Add to that his temper tantrums and the fact that he keeps messing up his own plans because he’s bored and you really have to question why Angel and Cordelia have their Spike-induced freak-out.

That said, Spike does have a rather classic introduction in this episode (again, funnier if you had seen Buffy season 2 beforehand, but whatever). Here is the quote in its entirety for your…I dunno… entertainment or whatever (high-pitched girly voice in italics):

How can I thank you, you mysterious black-clad hunk of a knight thing? No need, little lady. Your tears of gratitude are enough for me. You see, I was one a badass vampire, but love and a pesky curse defanged me. Now I’m just a big fluffy puppy with bad teeth. No, not the hair! Never the hair! But there must be some way I can show my appreciation. No, helping those in need’s my job, and working up a load of sexual tension and prancing away like a magnificent poof is truly thanks enough. I understand, I have a nephew who’s gay, so… Say no more! Evil’s still afoot! And I’m almost out of that Nancy-boy hair gel I like so much. Quickly, to the Angel-mobile, away!

Oh, the family love...

One of the things I have always found interesting about the Buffyverse is the ease with which it is able to mock itself, and Spike’s opening monologue is a perfect example of that. It also sets up all the weird, wild, and wonderful elements of Spike and Angel’s relationship: Angel as the over-confident and overbearing alpha-male, and Spike’s rebellion, resentment, and unacknowledged admiration of that; Angel as the more refined but more pompous one and Spike as the uncouth and brutally honest one; Spike’s verbal quips at Angel’s expense; their mutual vanity but wildly different tastes; and of course, Spike just has to go and mention the idea that Angel is gay… Unfortunately, none of these elements really get the opportunity to come out and play until Season 5. Grr…argh.

In short, I think Spike is a brilliant character and that his dynamic with Angel is really fascinating, but that he was poorly utilized in this episode.

The Ring of Amarra

First of all, I find it highly amusing that both Doyle and Angel recognize the ring on sight, whereas nobody in Sunnydale knew what it looked like– not even Spike, who seemed to have done his homework. (I think this happens once more with thaomogenesis). I can see how Angel might know, but Doyle? Is he holding out on us with some vast knowledge of mystical artifacts? Did he have a vision of it? Yet another aspect to his character we never got to explore.

Who's bright idea was it to make vampires invincible?

But of course, the most interesting thing about the ring is its ethical implications.The ring makes a vampire invulnerable, which of course, in the hands of anyone but Angel would be really bad news (look at the first episode of season 3… eek). But does the situation really change with Angel in possession? Protecting the good guys is generally a good thing, but protection is not the same as invulnerability, and invulnerability= power, and power corrupts. So now we have an invulnerable corrupt person… oops.

In a way, the ring seems to be a miniature version of the central dilemma of Season 5: do we use the dark power in the hopes of doing good, knowing we are the most qualified to use it, even if we risk corruption? Is it a matter of giving the good guys the power, or of removing the power from the grasp of the bad guys? It’s a sticky question, and it is interesting that Angel makes a different decision here than he does in Season 5 (alternate motivations aside). In a way, this is the same dilemma that I wrote about with Harry Potter and the Elder Wand.

Perhaps the question is not about how the situation changes when Angel enters the picture, but how Angel’s situation changes when the ring enters the picture. So, the ring would make it possible to kick some serious evil butt without fear of dusting, but, let’s face it, that’s never really been one of Angel’s problems. The ring wouldn’t remove his bloodlust, it wouldn’t remove the curse, and it wouldn’t absolve him of his past. Really, the only thing the ring would add to Angel’s life is the ability to walk in the sunlight. Hence Angel’s argument against using it:

DOYLE: This ring is your redemption, it’s what you’ve been waiting for.

ANGEL: No, it just looks like it

DOYLE: Angel, man, think what you’re saying.

ANGEL: I have. I’ve thought of it from every angle. And what I figure is that I did a lot of damage in my day. More than you can imagine.

DOYLE: So what, you don’t get the ring because your period of self-flagellation isn’t over yet? I mean, think of all the daytime people you can help between 9 and 5.

ANGEL: They have help. The whole world is designed for them. So much so that they have no idea what goes on around them after dark. They don’t see the weak ones lost in the night. And the things that prey on them. And if I joined them, maybe I’d stop seeing too.

DOYLE: Yeah… who’d look out for all the insomniacs?

ANGEL: I was brought back for a reason, Doyle. And as much as I’d like to kid myself I don’t think it was for 18 holes at Ranshaw.

I suppose the idea I’m trying to get at here is that of earning redemption versus receiving it versus taking it. Angel rejects the ring in part because he feels he has no right to it or because it would distract him from his true redemption. And yet, he says later that he feels like he never can earn his redemption. I think Angel is right to reject the ring as a faux-reward, but I also think he is wrongly reluctant to take any reward. He pushes grace away because he hasn’t earned it, not seeing that the whole point of grace is that it is not earned. In short, I think both Angel and Doyle have valid arguments.

I know my thoughts on the ring are a little scattered, but grace is something I struggle with a lot (which is part of the reason I relate to Angel), so I’m still trying to work it all out. I’m sure this topic will come up again in the future.

Other Thoughts:

~This episode has my all-time favorite Doyle moment: when he answers the phone by saying “House of Pies” in a weird accent. So dorky, and so Doyle… sigh.

~It bugs me to no end that Doyle and Cordelia bring the actual ring to the hostage exchange. Their plan would have worked just as well with a fake (although I suppose the plot wouldn’t have).

~Spike and Marcus should both have known better than to try to break Angel with torture. Angel has been through far worse than a few pokers in his side, and he knows torture psychology better than anyone. They’re amateurs compared to him. On a related note, I remember reading an article somewhere that speculated that the reason Mutant Enemy brought Angel back from hell was so that they could have more scenes of David Boreanaz being tortured with his shirt off. They may have had a point.

~I believe this is the only time we see Angel helping someone in a non-mystical/monster-related case. Interesting.

~That pier railing broke way too easily when Angel and Marcus fell into it. I know, I know, gotta get the burning vampire into the water, but still…

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~ by ntertanedangel on June 16, 2010.

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