Angel: The Series

Season 1

City of...

Lonely Hearts

In the Dark

I Fall to Pieces

Room with A View

Sense and Sensitivity

The Bachelor Party

City of...

The Metaphysics of "City of..."

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 4 BtVS/season 1 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Allen Francis Doyle is a half-demon, half-human hybrid gifted with psychic visions. Unlike vampires, who are hybrids because they have a human body and a demon spirit, Doyle is a genetic hybrid--he has a demon father and a human mother. How this is possible has not been explained (since normally, individuals of two different species can't have viable offspring, e.g., there are no dog-human hybrids out in nature). Doyle's demon side didn't manifest itself until he was 21. Prior to then, he didn't know he wasn't a normal human being.

Sunlight and Vampires: How does Angel get around during the day? The rat-infested sewer tunnels, of course.

Like they did on "Buffy", i think they're positing that LA has a vast and expanse of walkable sewer tunnels. which isn't a farfetched idea when you consider how huge this town is (-mere-, Oct 6 11:07 1999).

Good and Evil in "City of..."

The powers of good remain as mysterious as always. Doyle is sure that these powers have an interest in Angel and that Doyle has been sent to help him, but he doesn't know who they are, since they speak to him in short to-the-point visions. It is interesting, however, that he says "they" and not "He" or "She". "I just know," he tells Angel, "that whoever sends [my visions] is more powerful than me or you. And they're just trying to make things right."

Cordelia's Scooby-gang-trained ability to identify a vampire and her blasé Sunnydale-native attitude towards monsters and demons are good credentials for this aspiring actress' day-job (or is helping Angel a night job?), and if acting doesn't work out, she's got herself a growing demon-hunter's resume. Her willingness to join another undead play-group is also proof she's outgrown her May Queen days.

Russell Winters is a vampire who wields power with impunity. He gets his victims with deceptive charm, promising them "whatever they want." In some way that is vaguely explained, he "likes pain"--presumably that of other people, young girls especially, rather than his own--making him a sadist. Fortunately, Angel slays the corporate blood-sucker by kicking him out a high-rise window in broad day light. "Can you fly?"

Wolfram and Hart: In a democratic society where people have equal rights and equal responsibility to the law, the rich and powerful must sometimes maintain their privilege by manipulating the facts. Russell Winters protects himself from prosecution by paying this powerful law firm to destroy evidence and trump up alibis. Because they protect evil's capacity to hurt and destroy, Wolfram & Hart are an example of evil-as-corruption.

The evil of lawyer Lindsey McDonald

Moral Ambiguity in "City of..."

Angel: Doyle predicts that if Angel remains the "shadowy" avenger, saving people and disappearing into the night, he will eventually be tempted to feed on one of them, rationalizing it after the fact with the argument that the all the lives he's saved outweigh the one death he caused (see also Faith in Consequences). Doyle urges Angel to "get involved"--having an emotional connection to those he saves will prevent him from giving in to his darkest urges. Angel is quickly reminded, though, that emotional involvement has a price of its own when the woman he is charged to protect is killed.

Cordelia and the birth of Angel Investigations:

Cordelia's dad was busted for tax evasion, which resulted in her becoming impoverished. ...Knowing that her friends were going to college in Sunnydale, Cordelia left to be an actress. While she wouldn't admit it, Cordelia was secretly pleased that Angel took her in. She insisted the job would only be temporary. Cordelia Chase would not work if she didn't have to - her pride demanded it. Her determination, and need for cash, caused her to approach Angel about the idea of charging for his services. She's a survivor, and will try to push people along - especially if it helps her, too (NuPhalanx, Nov 30 1999 7:14 pm).


SASSY, which was my favorite mag so I dig it even though they vilified me for Angel, the big hate re: gender stereotypes. And while I think the show is more complicated than that, there's some validity in their crit. I did shoot the first scene of the series -- angel saves blonde in alley -- wondering if I was, oh, say, betraying everything I believed in (joss, May 29 19:54 2000).

Lonely Hearts

The Metaphysics of "Lonely Hearts"

Tahlmer is a worm-like demon with sharp teeth. A parasite, it inhabits the bodies of human beings, traveling from one human host to the next, tapping into their memories (Star Trek fans, think joined Trill, otherwise, see Bad Eggs) and imbuing the host body with unnatural strength. To change hosts, it bursts out of the chest of the body it is inhabiting and into the back of the new host. No sexual "exchange of fluids" is necessary for this transfer (Angel's comment was just speculation). Tahlmer attacks after sex because it is an easy way to put victims in a vulnerable position.

The skin heals up almost immediately, but the new body won't remain healthy and intact. The host bodies Tahlmer inhabits probably die in the attack, and are hence animated by the demon worm. The healing abilities of the living body are gone, and every new wound goes unrepaired, necessitating a change of hosts. The discarded host body shows the decay of the long-since dead.

Sunlight and vampires: Angel heads home after hunting the demon surrounded by the glowing light of dawn. How? Well, it was supposed to be pre-dawn:

Re: angel. Sunlight. Yeah, that's been a problem. It's just hard for the DP to light the show and avoid it entirely. And then tonight there was a shot that was colortimed so that what was supposed to be pre-dawn came out like post-dawn. Bear with us, we know it's not all there yet (joss, Oct 12 22:48 1999).

Evil in "Lonely Hearts"

There's something more insidious to Tahlmer than just the predatory evil that hunts and kills for what it needs--a body that won't decay. Tahlmer has all the smooth lines down pat and turns on the charm like a human serial killer, taking advantage of its potential host's desperation and emotional vulnerability. But then, loneliness and need are dawn-of-time problems just like Tahlmer.

They were trying to make a connection to STDs, since the demon was passed into another body through sex, and because the people were just so frivolous about sex, they didn't seem to care too much about who they were sleeping with (Emily Kristin 10/16/99 9:13 PM)

It was a tidy metaphor: how loneliness literally eats you up inside, how the meaninglessness of one-night stands can leave you empty and aching for more (ripley, Oct 12 22:41 1999).

Moral Ambiguity in "Lonely Hearts"

Cordelia has met benevolent demons before--souled Angel and ex-demon Anya (although she has no personal memory of Anyanka, she surely knows Anya's story as well as any other Scooby Gang member). Still, she doesn't seem to think much of demons in general, to Doyle's dismay. On the up side, it makes her willing to work for a demon slayer.

When Kate first meets Angel, he's a cute guy in a bar. Then this L.A. cop finds him in an apartment with a desiccated corpse. Her attempt to arrest him isn't simply based on Angel's presence there, it's based on his lack of authoritative credentials. He claims to be a private investigator, but he can't produce a license. She continues to suspect him until the "real" serial killer appears and Angel saves her life from him. Then Kate returns the favor, and decides, for the moment, that he's just a mysterious amateur.

But Angel's mission in L.A. is going to put him on thin ice with the police. When Cordelia starts handing out Angel's business cards in D'Oblique, Doyle explains why:

Doyle: "Hey, hey, hey! This isn't a marketing seminar here, princess. You've got to stay a bit more below radar."
Cordelia: "What radar?"
Doyle: "The police? You know the service our friend Angel provides might put some people in mind of the V-word."
Cordelia: "Vampire?"
Doyle: "No, Vigilante. You know there are laws against this."

In the Dark

The Metaphysics of "In the Dark"

The Gem of Amara

It's not clear how Doyle senses where Angel hid the gem of Amara. Does he have the ability to "smell" metal (in a sewer, no less?), or is his power supernatural in nature (i.e., he senses the mystic power of the ring)? He must transform himself into his demon visage before he can use this power, a look that distorts the shape of his face and covers it with blue spines.

Destroying the Gem of Amara: Angel crushes the stone in its ring setting under a rock, effectively liberating and dissipating the mystic energy contained in the gem.

Indirect sunlight: Vampires don't combust from indirect sunlight, but how indirect is the light under the pier on a sunny beach? A soaking wet but gemless Angel doesn't ecen smoke, nor does he die a flamy death in the dusky light right after the sun dips below the horizon.

Who is Spike's sire?

Good and Evil in "In the Dark"

The return of Spike

Marcus is a true fiend--a vampire who's turned torture into his vocation and who has a predilection for preying on children that Spike implies is sexual in nature. Spike has no qualms about using Marcus for his own purposes, but Marcus is not the single-minded sadist Spike takes him for. Marcus steals the ring and runs, intending to use his new invulnerability to feed his demonic desires. Angel puts a stop to that, though.

running in the sunlight to kill torture vamp in In the Dark is the bravest thing I've ever seen him do. If he failed to knock the torture vamp ...into the water he'd be toast (Pirategrrl, 10/25/99 8:36),

Moral Ambiguity in "In the Dark"

Rachel and Lenny: We've seen this scenario before--a woman with little self-respect can't get over her feelings towards a man when the abuse starts and goes back to him again and again. Meanwhile, the paranoid, self-centered abuser enjoys the power he has over the woman he claims to care about but ultimately has no respect for. Rachel's new-found faith in herself is good, but her freedom was a little too easily won. Fan thoughts on domestic violence in BtVS/AtS episodes.

Angel gets just a bit rough on Doyle's closed-mouth underground sources when he is looking for Spike.

The moral ambiguity of Doyle

Ethical Quandaries in "In the Dark"

Did Angel do the right thing when he destroyed the Gem of Amara?

"What do you want, if not the ring?" --Marcus

Doyle argues that Angel's choice not to wear the ring comes out of his incessant need for brooding and self-torture, and that if he got past this, he would see it for the miraculous gift that it is. Doyle also argues that if any vampire deserves to wear the ring, it's Angel (Buffy makes a similar implication in THLOD), and that Angel could help people during the day if he kept it.

Angel responds that what looks like his salvation is only the illusion of salvation. True salvation isn't a hand-out, it is earned by one's deeds, and he hasn't put the balance sheet in his favor yet, as Doyle pointed out in City Of.... In addition, Angel believes that he was brought back from hell by the forces of Good, who intend his vampire powers to be his "niche" in the good fight. If he helps people during the day, when there are witnesses and police protection, he might forget all the bad things that happen at night, like Rachel almost being shot to death in a deserted alley. He understands that he is the only vampire who deserves to wear the ring, because rather than keep it around, once he's made his decision not to wear it, he destroys it.

Reasons to keep the ring:

Reasons to get rid of the ring:

I Fall to Pieces

The Metaphysics of "I Fall to Pieces"

Mind over matter: Ronald Meltzer can detach his body parts (e.g., eyes, hands, teeth), control their movement at a distance from his body, then reattach them when they return. As a physician, he can reconnect severed nerves and remove tumors in hard to reach areas, like behind the eyeball. At one point this is called "psychic surgery". Psychic surgery typically involves using mystical means to insert one's hands into unbroken human skin to cure or remove diseased tissue (no detachment of limbs takes place).

Meltzer's body parts get where he wants them to go by physically traversing the distance between his body and that location. If they could materialize out of thin air, his hand would not have had to struggle to get through the grating of Angel's apartment. The one thing Meltzer cannot apparently do is supply oxygen and nutrition to his detached body part, or, at least, this is Angel's working theory. If this is true, then, given enough time away from a working circulatory system, Ronald Meltzer's parts will decay and die. Nevertheless, Angel puts the parts in separate steel boxes so they cannot reattach.

Drugs and vampires: Was Angel actually affected by the paralytic? In humans, it slows down the heart until it stops beating. Angel's heart doesn't beat, so it can't kill him. However, any drug that affects the heart muscle also affects other muscles, and tranquilizers that affect living creatures have been shown to affect vamps. Since the doctor's voice got distorted, it is likely that the drug incapacitated Angel until it broke down in his system.

Good and Evil in "I Fall to Pieces"


...the theme of this show really *is* about vigilantism, in the face of the Los Angeles attitude toward the inept and/or evil cops and the inept and/or evil lawyers who work with them. I don't think you can discount how fiercely Nicole Brown Simpson and Rodney King and the Manson murders and all the riots and police scandals past and present have affected the city; and the Hollywood scriptwriters who live in it. I think that the lone hero is a major force in L.A. literature ...there is a feeling of impotence and frustration left behind by all of the horrors and injustices visited upon Los Angeles, and Angel's role is to change that feeling and redeem the city....

There's been a lot of build-up to this being a major rationalizing theme, including Angel's repeated reference to "his city" and of course the Angel/City of Angels connection, the noir influences on the show, and Kate's description of Wolfram & Hart as... "the law firm that Johnnie Cochran was too ethical to join" (J. Godwin, 8:03, May 24, 2000)

Ronald Meltzer is a brilliant ocular neurosurgeon who can manipulate the physical world and save lives. However, either through genetics or a loveless upbringing, he is psychologically incapable of loving and being loved. As a human being, he still requires love to be whole and healthy, but he cannot get it, and so brews with rage beneath his calm, controlled exterior (see also Faith). As Angel explains, his condition makes it impossible for him to maintain a relationship with a real woman, and he so builds a fantasy around Melissa that she does not participate in. Eventually, she does something he can't rationalize in his fantasy world (turning to Angel), and his rage erupts in a sudden violent loss of control. His evil is the attempt to impose control and order on an unwilling person (see also Ted).

We have seen our share of weak women on the shows, but Melissa Burns is no victim. Stalking is about control, and as Kate points out, even if Melissa could use a little hired muscle, only she can get back her confidence to go out into the world and her sense of herself as a competent, worthy human being. Although Angel points out her success in doing this in order to encourage her, she is the one who maintained her integrity as her tormentor fell apart.

Ethical Quandaries in "I Fall to Pieces"

Should Angel have killed a human being, however monstrous?

Souled Angel has shown a marked reluctance to kill human beings, but he has hurt more than one of them when it suited his purposes. In this case, however, as Doyle points out, Ronald Meltzer's powers make it almost impossible for conventional justice to keep him locked up. Angel chooses, therefore, to end Ronald Meltzer's life.

Room With A View

The Metaphysics of "Room With A View"

Poltergeists are violent ghosts trapped on the Earthly plane by unresolved issues from their human lives. When she died in 1946, Maude Pearson was a mentally disturbed 57-year old woman who disapproved of her son Dennis' fiancee because she came from "wrong side of the tracks". To keep him away from her, Maude bound Dennis and sealed him up in a wall. Her intent might have been to free him after an hour or two, but she dropped dead of a heart attack. She is now trapped in a purgatory of the insanity she suffered in life, fueled by an inability to face the consequences of her final actions.

On at least three occasions, Maude has been able to put female residents of her apartment into a "thrall"--a state of mind in which the women become susceptible to suggestion (see Buffy in IOHEFY). They allow themselves to be verbally humiliated and their "suicides" are staged. Cordelia succumbs to the spirit's thrall as well. It is likely that this emotional powerlessness cannot be induced unless the woman is already susceptible to the ghost's degrading words.

Dennis' traumatic suffocation at the hands of his own mother explains why he remains on Earth as well. His spirit is trapped in the wall with his corpse, and is freed when the wall is broken. Prior to that, Dennis can only stick his phantasmal face into the wall.

The spell to bind a ghost: To send a ghost to its final resting place, it is necessary to find a ghost's "center"--to uncover the traumatic events that led to it being trapped on Earth. Doyle places Hawthorn Berries, Lungwort, and stones in a "binding circle". The spell also requires bile, though it is not clear how it is used. Angel reads the incantation:

Adduce veritatem in lucem. Accipiat larua suam requietem. Reposcant animae suum regnum.
Translation: Bring forth the truth into the light. Let the ghost take his rest. The spirits reclaim their authority.

Doyle: Vinci laruam in orbem. Vindicent exterus mundus suam incolam

At this point, Cordelia--the human being that the ghost is in contact with--is supposed to stand in the circle and strike at its center. This ritual action will reveal the ghost's "center".

It is not, however, the only way this trauma can be revealed. When Cordelia regains her self-confidence in the bedroom, this weakens the ghost of Maude Pearson and completes the spell. The spell's effect is to momentarily put the other ghost in the apartment, the son, Dennis Pearson, into Cordelia. A possessed Cordelia hacks into the wall with a metal lamp, revealing where Dennis' corpse was sealed into the wall by his mother. The revelation of Maude's deeds sends her to her final resting place, but not before she experiences the spiritual wrath of Dennis.

Dennis, interestingly, remains trapped on the Earthly plane after this. Perhaps he still has other issues to work out.

The time of an invitation to a vampire isn't a factor in its gaining entrance to a private residence. Cordelia invites Angel over to a place she doesn't even have yet (or know about) with a casual "when I get my new place, you're totally invited over." When Angel arrives at "the new place", he walks right in.

Evil and Moral Ambiguity in "Room With A View"

Maude is a psycho bitch, no doubt, but did she remember killing her son prior to Cordy knocking in the wall? Her horrified reaction to Dennis' corpse indicates she had forgotten. Maude never shows remorse for what happened. However, if she felt nothing at all about what she did, it is unlikely she would have remained trapped in her own apartment for fifty years. She tries to justify her madness in the end, but that is no doubt motivated by a desire to escape her son's wrath.

Cordelia has been a kinder, gentler Cordy since she came to L.A., humbled by her riches-to-rags decline and her struggling career. She does a good job of hiding it, but she is fighting feelings of inadequacy--the fear that she, Queen C, might actually be a failure deep down. She is therefore susceptible to the ghost's ritual humiliation, and falls into her thrall. When Maude labels her a "bitch", however, Cordelia gets called her back to her life. No doubt she's been called that a hundred times before, and it is a word of pride for her. To others, it means she is insensitive and cruel. To Cordelia, it means she is a superior individual who doesn't take shit from anyone.

Cordelia can never go all the way back to who she was. She may be quick to criticize and wish for the finer things, but she is now one of the white hats--she knows there are real monsters, and that there are people who fight them. She may wish she didn't have to have anything to do with the monsters or the fighters, but as long as she can't avoid the fight, she is willing to help, because those pesky monsters keep on interfering in her life.

Sense and Sensitivity

The Metaphysics of "Sense and Sensitivity"

The Sensitivity Spell: How do you defend a client if you're the devil incarnate Wolfram and Hart Law Firm? You cut the cops off at the knees. Granted, the LAPD could use a little sensitivity training, but when they touch "The Talking Stick," they fall under the influence of a spell that makes them behave like psychotherapy trainees on drugs--spouting every analytical cliche, weeping like baby-men, and finally "acting out" in a (albeit guilt-ridden) violent way when they aren't "being heard."

Vampires and spells

Vampires and video tape

Evil in "Sense and Sensitivity"

Wolfram and Hart: When Kate captures the notorious mobster Little Tony, Tony's lawyer, Lee Mercer, plays the Dirty-L.A. Cop card well for his purposes. First, he tries to get his client's verbal abuse stricken from the record and Kate's verbal abuse kept on the record. Then he goes for the throat with the smooth hypocrisy we will learn to expect of his law firm:

"It means that we will open this case to the court of public opinion. It means that we'll shine a light into the darkest corners of this precinct and give the people a clear view of the brutality and callousness of this police force that will make Mark Fuhrman look like Gentle Ben."

The evil of lawyer Lee Mercer

Moral Ambiguity in "Sense and Sensitivity"

Angel admits under the influence of the Sensitivity spell that he feels judged by his friends when he displays his vampire visage. But despite his guilt over Angelus' deeds and his desire for redemption, he has no problem making the incredibly crass comment to the sensitivity trainer that his parents "tasted like chicken."

Trevor Lockley, a retired police officer, can sum up his life as a cop and a father in one sentence: "In my day we didn't need any damn sensitivity." Kate's cold and insensitive father may feel love and concern for his daughter, but he is incapable of expressing either. Kate dealt with her father's behavior by becoming hard herself. This makes her the very picture of an L.A. cop (from the average citizen's perspective), but Kate's actions are also driven by the frustration she and her fellow officers feel over the behavior of the criminal element and their lawyers. I wouldn't want to meet Kate in a dark alley if I was a bad guy.

The Bachelor Party

The Metaphysics of "The Bachelor Party"

The Straleys are a demon "clan" or family group. They confirm that at least some demons procreate in a manner similar to humans (Doyle's paternal line is another example). They come from a clan-line or species known as the "Ano-movic" demons, who gave up their traditions and language ("Aratuscan") centuries ago and assimilated more or less peacefully into human culture.

The intent of the Brain-Eating Ritual is to make a second marriage "pure" and untroubled by incorporating the love of a past husband into the new husband's psyche. Richard's uncle utters the words

Ino platbrata iko iko retvan el shac (roughly, something about ingesting a past love)

and slices open his palm with a scythe. He lets his blood drip into a pot. Its contents burst into flame.

Richard, meanwhile, works to get Doyle's blessing on the new marriage. When Doyle gives it, it is taken as "consent" to sacrifice him. He is placed in a box that covers everything except his head. At this point, the head would be opened with the scythe and the groom-to-be would "cannibalize" the ex-husbands brains (this is Doyle's term. Whether it implies that all demons are really the same biological "species" is unclear).

Demonologists: Harriet Doyle doesn't just marry demons, she studies them. The closest thing we've seen to her profession are the Watchers, experts on demonology whose goal is to kill them (see also The Initiative, whose goals are a bit fuzzier). Harry is more of a sociologist--an "ethnodemonologist" investigating a culture that lives among humans, but is invisible to them. She's not naive in this quest--she knows that demons can kill, but she respects those that are benevolent. She also knows it's not racist for one culture (humans) to defend themselves against the homicidal "traditions" of another culture, rather than "respect" them.

Evil and Moral Ambiguity in "The Bachelor Party"

The Straley Family: Some demons want to obliterate the human life-style; others want to live it. This brood of anti-Waltons are more Waltons than anti, with one exception. There's just some old family traditions that, well, gee, it wouldn't be right to ignore. Their attitude towards killing Doyle is RichardWilkins-esque--sociopathy carried out with old-fashioned charm.

Cordelia thought she'd found the perfect man--Pierce has money and looks. But it's too late for her to pursue the life she dreamed of in high school. "Mr. Armani" is a bore and a coward, and she realizes she wants someone brave and interesting. Maybe it's because she is becoming brave and interesting herself.

The Moral Ambiguity of Doyle

Angel: the Series and pictures copyright © 1999-2000 The WB Television Network.
Screen shot credits
Translations by I. Meyers
This page last modified 10/12/03

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