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Numbers, Animals, and Flossing

Angel Episode 4.4 Slouching Toward Bethlehem
AirDate: 27th Oct 02

Someone wrote me last week and asked if I didn't agree that Joss & his crew have been recycling old plots too much already on both shows this season. I agreed that a couple of premises have been used before, but I've also been told that there are technically only so many basic plot structures in existence (hi Kit), and almost every film and television episode falls into one of those categories. I told this reader that I wouldn't complain about M.E.'s recycling of old plots, as long as the writing remained strong and the characters and their relationships continued to grow in interesting ways.

This is why, despite my initial skepticism, I enjoyed the amnesia-driven 'Slouching Toward Bethlehem'. Thanks to writer Jeffrey Bell and the tasteful direction of the excellently named Skip Schoolnik (does anyone know if they named Cordy's guide demon after this Skip?), yet another memory-loss story was spun in an intriguing new direction. One of the differences here is that it doesn't appear to be something that's going to be resolved overnight, and maybe one of the continuing stooooories will be how Cordy gets her groove back.

The recent adventures of Connor the Vampire Slayer have been fun, and little by little they're starting to flesh out the way his mind works. We're coming to understand his personality as something more than that of the family's new cat that won't come down from the top of the fridge. It's also nice to see that SOMEONE in L.A. is staying focused in their pursuit of protecting people from the nasties, even if it's only his way of addressing the fear and loathing of his own freaky bloodline. I felt kind of bad for the kid when the fight was over and he was looking to make nice with the victim and his frightened family, who only saw him as a freak as they tore away in terror. It's tough to feel like you have no home. Right Cordy?

It was almost Hitchcockian the way normal things (relatively speaking) seemed wrong and scary to someone so out of her element and understandably paranoid. One thing after another that we would usually see as standard aspects of a day at Angel Investigations became goosebump-inducing as we saw them through the eyes of someone totally unprepared for what was going on. Imagine running smack into Lorne if you'd never seen a demon before, or passing some crucifixes over to someone who claims to be your friend, only to have them burn his hands as he morphs into a hissing vampire.

But none of that was as terrifying as Cordy's impromptu rendition of The Greatest Love of All. Yee-ikes! I'll listen to Lorne singing Lady Marmalade every episode if it means that we never have to hear Cordy do anything like that ever again. If any good came out of it, it's that we've now learned that something wicked this way comes. Not to be outdone by their Sunnydale affiliates, The Fang Gang now has their very own impending doom to fear. Joss mentioned in an interview last Summer that he may have found a way to arrange a crossover between shows. I hoped at the time that he was actually referring to a friendly agreement between UPN and the WB that would see Lorne appearing at the Bronze and Willow & Fred taking a shower together (stop that! –Ed.), but maybe what he meant was the two shows sharing one Big Bad. Maybe the rising evil that the magically inclined on Buffy are antsy about is also being felt by the folks in L.A. Maybe it's bigger than we thought, and our heroes will be fighting aspects of it all the way up the coast. From beneath you, beside you, and several miles away from you, it devours. I could be way off – it's just a theory. But there's definitely also been an increase in the frequency of mentions made on each show of the characters from the other, even if it's just something that only the faithful will pick up on -- I enjoyed learning what Buffy wrote in Cordy's Sunnydale High Yearbook ("Thanks for the flaming arrows").

Lilah and Wesley's relationship continues to get more complicated. Oh! Oh! During the transitional helicopter shot before their first scene together, I saw a quick flash of something else, so I rewound and watched it again, frame by frame. Just before the new scene began, there was a barely-there shot of Cordy curled up in a chair, and then the creepiest still of Wes & Lilah in bed. Obviously it was taken from the same scene we were about to see, but it was lit ghastly white and seemed more like a creepy Polaroid, with Lilah laughing and Wes appearing to look straight into the camera. As something that flashed so quickly it was barely noticeable, nice touch! Felt a bit like something from a David Lynch dream sequence and it was a very artful move for a show that consistently tries to present itself in a more cinematic fashion than many of its contemporaries (I wish Buffy was letterboxed too).

Okay, I was talking about the couple in the Polaroid. It's been great to watch this impossible pairing become a believable reality. It seemed like such a crazy idea when they first hit the sheets last season, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who assumed it would be a one time affair. Maybe twice, but I honestly couldn't see them continuing their liaisons, as Lilah stands for everything Wesley deplores. But now, not only have they remained bedmates, but it's obvious that their hearts are coming into play. The bet over who would call it a relationship first was cute, as was Lilah's little intimation that she didn't mind so much that someone finally said it (not only because there was financial gain). But as we saw by the way she manipulated Wes in this episode, the fact that she's falling for our boy has nothing to do with her ongoing identity as an evil lawyer with an unholy agenda. You could see that Wesley was a little hurt when he found the dollar bill on the floor that she had identified as a symbol of their growing romance (what was written on it?!?). I suppose it's arguable, but I feel that it was dropped completely by accident – I believe she meant what she said as she nuzzled noses with him, and it's unfortunate that he assumed the way she played him that night was further soured by this apparent personal rejection. That's really the deal with their relationship, isn't it? They may be on opposite sides of the war, but they're gradually finding a way to separate the other person from their respective jobs, and the friction comes when they find it harder to do this. Compare and contrast with Spike & Buffy, class.

There were a couple of flaws in logic this week that I can't really overlook. This episode picked up immediately where the previous one left off. Lorne had just gone upstairs to pee, leaving Angel, Fred & Chuckie G in the lobby staring incredulously at the just-arrived Cordelia. Lorne and Cordy hadn't even seen each other yet, but Lorne already had Mr. Sandworm-face in his room for a reading. What, has the guy been sitting in there for three months waiting for Lorne to come back from Vegas? It's a shame for him that the long wait only culminated in his gruesome demise.

Also, after Connor "rescued" Cordy from the Hyperion and took her back to his love nest of taxidermy and tripwires, she soon made the connection that her mop-topped hero and the baby in the photo were one and the same. Did it not dawn on her to wonder how she looked the same age in the photo as she is now, but he's about 18 years older?!? As we know, to fully give ourselves over to the experience we must occasionally suspend disbelief, so let's let it go. Regardless of the inconsistencies, I like the fact that she ended up with Hiawatha, and it'll be interesting to see how their relationship develops (Hand on breast! Hand on breast!), especially if she remains tabula rasa. Each week the separate factions on Angel become a little more clearly defined, and there seems to be an ongoing sorting process as we figure out who's siding with who. It's as if they're forming teams for a big game that's about to begin. And to add some shading to the nature of this nasty sport, I now turn the floor over to Mr. William Butler Yeats, and an excerpt from his 1919 poem 'Second Coming', from whence the title of this episode came:

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

What rough beast indeed? We've known all along that Angel is destined to be a major player in the apocalypse. Could the hour actually be at hand? It appears California is in for all sorts of trouble. Better get your game face on, Angie.

Take care, everybody.

PS – Julie has my deepest gratitude for saving me with a tape of this episode, after I somehow managed to fall asleep 15 minutes before it originally aired, only to wake up at midnight in frustrated horror – hence the delay in getting the review to Slayage.

Speaking of which, I've been meaning to make public reference to something that comes up a lot in the emails I receive from readers. It's great that people love the site as much as they do, but I can't accept one iota of the credit for its existence or ongoing excellence. My involvement with Slayage begins and ends at submitting these reviews, and I'm as much a fan of the work that Bec and her pals do as you are. So if you're offering up praise or thanks, send it her way. I know she'd also really appreciate it if you'd be willing to subscribe to it for even a minimal monthly fee, as the costs of maintaining the site are making it difficult to continue.

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