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Death Valley Days (Rah Rah Ra-Tet!)

Angel Episode 4.9 'Long Day's Journey'
Air Date: 22Jan03

Daniel said to me recently that he overlooks goofy stuff on Angel like the blocked-out sun only affecting Los Angeles, because he feels like this show is Joss’ playtime. Things the man might think are too silly or heavy-handed for Buffy are fair game on Angel (don’t come after me for this sentiment, because it isn’t mine!). Electrified superbabes, raining fire, Wesley getting his throat slit ear to ear and surviving, a hellbeast coming through a mystic portal at a university lecture arousing no public attention whatsoever – it’s all in a day’s work for the Fang Gang. You want to send a 50 foot tall housewife out to battle a thousand gnomes? Cordy will have a vision about it and Gunn will grab his axe (this part was mine).

So I laughed and nodded at the point he was making, and we agreed that it’s not a bad thing at all. It means that huge, crazy stuff will happen on Angel (the Pylea storyline, for example), and we, as the viewers, get a totally different show than Buffy. Would you have it any other way?

I should also say, though, that it’s not like this series is a 24-7 three ring circus. Tim Minear’s gang is just as capable of subtlety and clever subtext and powerful stories driven solely by the complex relationships between these rich and well-rounded characters. The strength of this season is that it’s perfectly balancing the humour and heartache with the 50 foot tall housewives. If you check the archived reviews you’ll see that I wasn’t so wild about the episode where they all went to Vegas, but outside of that I think this show has been on a nearly flawless tear since the middle of last season, and ‘Long Day’s Journey’ continued the streak.

In these reviews I often namedrop Neil Gaiman, and particularly his ‘Sandman’ series of comics, because I keep him on the same shelf as Joss Whedon in my own personal collection of geniuses. Like Joss, Neil has a gift for blending just the sort of things I described above – he’ll take “ordinary” people of the sort you might know, or that you might even BE, and inject elements of the occult, various world mythologies, and all sorts of themes, allegories and even characters from classic literature. What you end up with is a story that’s scary and surprising, yet so familiar that you start wondering if he’s been following you around. The King of Dreams has a conversation with a five-year-old girl on an airplane. Satan closes up Hell and goes on the road as a lounge singer. A bag lady lives for hundreds of years and knows just about everything, but because she’s off her rocker, no one’s listening. It’s a huge cast of characters, and you never know when one of them might turn up, or when a new connection between them might be revealed. You’d probably be able to jump in later on in the overall story and still enjoy it, but each installment that you missed lessens your chance of appreciating the full significance of each line and plot twist. Sound familiar? There are writers who excel at the supernatural, and those who have a freakish gift for nailing humanity and all its hilarious and tragic nuances. So far I know of no one who can do both the way Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon can.

Admittedly, when we’re praising the writing of Buffy and Angel, we aren’t just talking about Joss. He’s surrounded by a host of talented scribes, each with their own strengths and, yes, weaknesses. It’s no secret that my new favourite Buffy writer was introduced this season, Drew Goddard (does anyone have their hands on a copy of his Six Feet Under spec that got the whole ball rolling? Email me!!), but I’d also like to take a moment to lead some raucous cheering for Mere Smith, who’s really come into her own this season. She’s already written as many episodes as she did in season three (if you include her threesome for ‘Calvary’), and so far they’ve all been whoppers. Her writing really shows what a fan she is of the series and the characters, and it seems like she has her own trademark in Gwen Raiden, as she’s penned both episodes that Gwen’s appeared in.

And yes – one of them is the episode that I still haven’t said much about, ‘Long Day’s Journey’.

As seems to be the case lately, Lorne had a small role in this episode but he rocked the few lines he was given. He’s really the den mother to the whole crew, isn’t he? He’s there to comfort everyone with muffins and pet names and… glasses of blood, but just like mom, step out of line and he’ll be there to cuff your ear. In this case it was Liam the Broody’s turn to get lectured, and I love that Lorne was already clued into Connor & Cordy gettin’ their freak on. Nothing gets past mom. I believe 4.13 will be the episode that will include Andy Hallett in the opening credits, and it’s well deserved.

And this episode once again showcased Angel’s sketching skills. Great, Angel. Keep drawing the Beast – that ought to really help stop him, seeing as how everyone has already seen him in person. But I get a kick out of the drawing, as it calls to mind the head games he was playing with Buffy back in her second season during his evil-spree. Foreshadowing?

So from there we skipped over to Connor’s place, where he and Cordy set the tone for one of the most annoying aspects of this episode. It started with Connor trying to impress her with what a dynamo he is. “Look! I have super speed! And super hearing! And super strength!” Okay, shut up now, all right? It would have been acceptable if that was the only time we had to hear that stuff, but Angel & Gwen picked it up later on in the episode, with all that, “superpower thing”, and “superhero school” stuff. Tone it down a bit, will you? Gwen is already straight out of a comic book, and I’m fine with that because she’s a really distinct character because of it. And yes, a few of the others are obviously blessed with supernatural talents, but if you keep beating this X-Men angle to death you’re going to wind up with Birds of Prey-itis (a nasty disease, and it’s fatal).

But something that WASN’T irritating was the brief return of the OLD Cordy! It was great to see a couple of catty flashes of the no-nonsense firecracker she used to be – first in her “Get over it” speech to Angel, and later on in the way she had her back up around Gwen. Calling her Supertramp was an inspired bit of bitchiness, and I loved it. Those of you who might be brand new to this show as of the current season (it could happen) will be surprised to learn that Cordelia once had a spine, and her sarcasm and wit were a joy to behold.

And what was the result of her foot up Angel’s ass? He marched downstairs and launched into a motivational speech for the troops that was in direct parallel with Buffy’s speech at the end of ‘Bring on the Night’. The only difference was that the extended Scooby Gang just nodded and smiled and felt better, whereas Angel’s crew had the supersymmetrical Fred to point out that it’s all well and good to get fired up for the upcoming battle, but no one has any idea what this thing’s weaknesses are (chocolate fondue), how to stop it (Vulcan nerve pinch), or where to even find it (it’s in your grocer’s freezer)! Doesn’t matter – the boss says it’s time to get serious, and these days that seems to have an amazingly galvanizing affect on the troops.

Enter Electro-Girl. Yay! Welcome back, Gwen! You and your shocking powers and your oh-so-kissable lips. Have you come to save the day with your tight red leather pants?

Not exactly, but she at least had a lead for the frustrated researchers. It seems one of her clients was another member of the Ra-Tet, and just like the others, he’s been cracked open like a Kinder Egg ™. But this little gift of information took a back seat to her gift to the viewers, which was a couple of cranks on the interpersonal tension at Angel Investigations. As if things weren’t already screwed up enough, now it was Cordy’s turn to feel a bit jealous (she’d seen Angel and Gwen’s makeout session from her supernatural vantage point), Fred went on the offensive since Gwen managed to KILL Gunn in their first meeting, and Gunn was equally hostile but still strangely attracted to his killer (and you KNOW he loves getting called Denzel!).

So with this pressure cooker on high, it was time for Angel and Gwen (as the super superheroes with superpowers who are very super) to set out on a road trip to the desert to find what everyone figured was the last remaining member of the Ra-Tet in North America (with one still in Belize). Angel’s super plan? If it’s good, protect it. If it’s evil, kill it before the Beast does.

Too late! The Beast apparently got to the kitty first, and did some impressive finger painting with its guts. But just as they lost one, the final member of the famous family stepped out of the shadows. Manny! I liked this character right away, and it was another example of that thing I was describing above that Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman do so well. You’ve got an immortal being, Keeper of the All-Important Thingy, and instead of giving him a shimmery robe and a long beard, who says he can’t be some Harry Dean Stanton type in a stained Hawaiian shirt who’s cruising for a drink and a lapdance? Excellent. It’s unconventional characters like Manny who are the glue that holds these shows together. I loved him in the way I love it when D’Hoffryn drops his air of majesty and talks like some guy in line at the post office. So they loaded him into the Angelmobile and headed back to the Angelcave. BLAMMO! ZOOM!

So at this point we had the last surviving member of the Ra-Tet, and a burning need to protect him from the Beast. What better place to hide him than in Gwen’s fabulously large apartment (“if I can find the kitchen”)? It was a great setup as Oldskool Cordy’s concerns about visiting a crap-infested tenement led straight into the reality of Electro-Girl’s Avengers-style pad. So with Manny safely locked up in the panic room, it was time for Jared Leto & Co to rob the place – Oh, sorry. Wrong panic room story. Instead, Gwen & Chuckie Gunn had a bit of time to make up, and Angel & Cordy got to sit watch and feel awkward around each other, before… before… Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

What? What happened? What do you mean, someone spiked the drinks? Who could do such a thing? Not the Beast, since he doesn’t seem to be much for the stealth. Not Connor, since he didn’t even know where everyone was hiding. 2 + 2 equals an inside job, so OBVIOUSLY it was Angel, right? It certainly couldn’t have been the OTHER person who was keeping watch. The same person that inexplicably slept with Connor and drove a major wedge between father and son. Maybe there’s an explanation after all, but at least for the time being Manny’s safe, and – oh. Yuck.

So with the Beast holding all the components for his Sunblocker ritual, it was time to rush over to Connor’s loft so they could fill him in on the situation. “Time to bring him in”, as it were.

Oh, the sweet irony as the gang arrived just in time to see the lad going OUT, as in out the window. This followed another short but equally thrilling bit of fisticuffs between David & Goliath, and I have to say that I LOVED the way the Beast knocked on the door and waited in the hall when he first showed up (I’m now telling the story backwards. Perhaps I’ve told you about my condition…)! Excellently funny.

The rematch of Everyone vs The Beast initially seemed to go better than the first confrontation, as Fred & Wesley’s portal swallowed him up and made him disappear. But as sure as day follows night (mommy, what’s foreshadowing?), the Big, Big Bad strolled back in to let them know that their A game still isn’t good enough. Ritual completed, sun blocked out, jazz-hands, jazz-hands, and… FINISH!

So our big juicy cliffhanger for episode 4.9 came in the form of Cordy’s third vision of the night, this time with more clarity. It appears the “worthy adversary” the Beast was talking to was none other than ANGELUS!! Woohoo!!

(Audience: Say it Wesley!)

Wesley: You know what this means, right?

(Audience: We need Angelus!)

Fang Gang: No, what?

Wesley: If we’re going to defeat the Beast…

(Audience: Yes?!?)

Wesley: We’ll need…

(Audience: YES?!?)

Wesley: Angelus.

Break out the champagne, folks. The single best thing that could possibly happen to this show is about to occur…

Take care, everybody.


About Ron : Email Ron
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Latest Comments

I would like to thank you for your reviews. I usually check the slayage board every day to see who's written a review about Buffy/Angel.
So heres my question -"If the writers really feel a need to have Angel linked with someone why can't it be Gwen rather than Cordy?" I know that the characters all have grown from the first season but who is this Cordy. YuK!!
Any way Ron thanks again for all your reviews.

Posted by: Kae on February 23, 2003 01:50 AM

malek, please keep spoilers out of these threads :-(

Posted by: spoilerphobe on February 22, 2003 04:28 PM

ron, you straight up rock! this is my first time reading one of your reviews and even tho it is a tad late (ahem), i never tire of reading clever jossverse deconstruction. where have you been all my life? *kisskiss*

Posted by: olivia on February 22, 2003 02:21 AM

loved your review. hilarious. season 4 is yummy. this little 3 week cliffhanger before the faith episode is delightfully torturous.

Posted by: jealous kitten on February 21, 2003 08:30 PM

Great review Ron, Angelus is back, hes always been my fav bad guy of all time through all the buffy/angel seasons, cant wait to see what he does next :D

Posted by: Gav on February 21, 2003 12:08 PM
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