Angel: The Series

Season 5


Time Bomb

The Girl in Question

Power Play

Not Fade Away


The Metaphysics of "Origin"

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 7 BtVS/season 5 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Kith'harn are powerful demons with large lower fangs. The Kith'harn of Los Angeles are well-known as the henchmen of Cyvus Vail.

Cyvus Vail is a warlock and leader of a group of demon sorcerers who have, among other things, done contract work for Wolfram and Hart. Vail specializes in memory restructuring, mind control, and temporal shifts. Wesley discovers that Vail did a spell for Wolfram and Hart the day the Angel Investigations gang agreed to come work at the law firm.

"What am I?": Connor's vampire heritage has given him super-human strength, durability, and sense perception. However, it is likely that his manufactured memories did not include events where he used these powers, so Connor does not become aware of them until he survives a hit and run. Connor and his new family come to Wolfram and Hart on the advice of a police officer, who tells them the Los Angeles law firm can help Connor make sense of and learn to control his unusual powers. Angel tells Connor that he is not a demon, just a human with "enhanced abilities". Connor wraps his mind around the concept by relating it to comic-book "superheroes". But that only begs the question for him--how did he get his powers in the first place? 'Cause it sure wasn't a radioactive spider bite.

The memory/reality altering spell: A year ago, Cyvus Vail manufactured new memories for Connor and the family of Lawrence and Colleen Riley. The Rileys and Connor came to believe that Connor was their son, much the same way that Joyce and Buffy Summers and Dawn remember the events of their lives with Dawn as a member of their family, even though the actual events occurred without Dawn. Cyvus Vail's spell also effected everyone else who knew Connor (with the exception of Angel, and Cordelia, who was in a coma). Vail replaced their memories with very similar, but Connor-less memories.

The Orlon Window is a tool that sorcerers use to see the events of the past as they really happened. It will also reveal the past to others if it breaks in close proximity to them. It cannot, however, "undo" the manufactured memories and reality of Cyvus Vail's original spell. So, for example, any objects in the Riley household placed there to be consistent with Connor's "childhood memories" will not disappear, nor will Wesley get back the scar he received in season 3. Wesley and the others will also retain their false memories.

When Wesley breaks the Orlon Window, the actual events of 2001-03 are revealed to everyone in proximity to the shattered talisman.

What does this mean? Epistemologically, there is a difference between "getting one's memories back" and "being shown the events of past as they happened." Memories are a record of events actually experienced first-hand. When you are "shown events", on the other hand, you observe them from a less-involved 'audience' point of view. The latter would allow someone to experience events they were not actually present for, or that they were too young to understand at the time they occurred. It is also easier to distance yourself emotionally from what you are "shown" than what you experience first-hand.

However, what is experienced second-hand through the Orlon Window has a stronger effect on those present than had it merely been "seen". Connor could not have regained the skills he learned in Quortoth merely by seeing himself using those skills. They have to be made part of him again. And Wesley seems genuinely traumatized by what he has experienced. Illyria talks about "having two sets of memories", and Wesley must struggle to focus on the new memories to lessen the impact of the old.

Since they were not in close proximity of the Orlon Window when it broke, is is likely that Lawrence and Colleen Riley's original memories were not returned. Gunn and Lorne were likely unaffected as well.

Written prophecy fulfilled:

"The one sired by the vampire with a soul shall grow to manhood and kill Sahjhan." --The Nyazian Prophecies, original text

The ancient Nyazian Prophecies describe a "confluence of events" that can be interpreted as the events that actually unfolded in seasons 3 and 4 of 'Angel', starting with Daniel Holtz' arrival in 21st century Los Angeles and culminating in the death of Jasmine at the hands of Connor. But there was also another prophecy contained within this text. Cyvus Vail believes that the demon Sahjhan is destined to die at the hands of Angel's son.

"Your son has to grow up sooner or later. Sit back and watch his future unfold."

In a set-up not unreminiscent of a rite of initiation into manhood, Connor enters a small room where a Resikhian Urn sits on a table. There are weapons beside the urn for the combatant's use. Cyvus puts up an invisible barrier so that Sahjhan won't get loose. Angel will be unable to help his son. Connor uncaps the bottle, and Sahjhan, who has been trapped inside for two years, emerges in a wisp of energy and solidifies. It doesn't take Sahjhan long to realize who Connor is, and to figure out that the boy lacks the skill to fight him. He taunts Connor with snark, urn and fist. When it is clear that Sahjhan is about to kill Connor, Angel turns to Vail to get him to lower the barrier. But Vail has been frozen in time by Illyria, and the the Orlon Window is now in Wesley's hand. Wesley throws it to the floor. It smashes in a burst of light.

In that moment, Connor's fighting skills return. He throws Sahjhan over his shoulder and fends off the demon's blows, then grabs a weapon and decapitates him.

Other Buffyverse prophecies fulfilled

According to Spike, Illyria can "hit like a Mack truck [and] selectively alter the flow of time". We already knew this. She also loves a good brawl, and shows empathic abilities. For example, she is able to sense Wesley's frustration and Connor's lust.

Evil in "Origin"

Cyvus Vail is frail and elderly. Before he dies, he wants an old enemy killed. But the time-traveling dimension-hopping demon Sahjhan is no easy mark. He almost killed Angel once, and Vail is unable to kill Sahjhan himself. But Vail knows someone who can. He has his demon minions run Connor Riley down with a van just to awaken the boy to his inborn powers. He also sics the henchmen on the boy's parents. Then the demon warlock blackmails Connor's biological father into persuading Connor to fight. His threat? He will smash the Orlon Window--a spell that can reveal Connor's true past to him--unless Connor battles Sahjhan to the death. During the battle, Vail stands ready to break the Orlon Window.

Good and Moral Ambiguity in "Origin"

Connor Riley is a polite, well-adjusted kid with just a hint of Owenosity. He isn't fazed by learning about his powers, thinks Lorne is hella cool, is impressed by Angel's vampire status and fighting skills, and admires the gang's mission to "fight crime and save the world"--all the things he once disdained, or came to disdain, in his former life. When Angel tells Connor that he is destined to kill Sahjhan, Connor bravely (although unwisely) decides to fight the demon in order to protect his family from Vail. But during his training with Angel, Connor tells him that he wants to find his own approach to the battle--he wants to learn to use his powers in a way that is comfortable for him, and what is comfortable for him isn't violent bullying.

Connor becomes less enthused about fighting after he kills Sahjhan. The Orlon Window has revealed to him the fierceness he once cultivated just to survive and the toll it took on him. And yet, Connor will always have the strength and speed he was born with, and the training the Orlon Window returned to him. He will have to decide what to do with that. For now, though, he is more concerned with another thing that is integral to the person he has always been: his need for family. He tells Angel that he is returning home with his parents, and gives his biological father few hints, for good or ill, what effect seeing his true past has had on him. This grim knowledge is something else he will have to learn to deal with, but he has nineteen years of happier memories to help him endure.

The knowledge of his old life also gives Connor something that he didn't have in his new life before. It tells him of the sins of his past, and gives him broader experience on which to base decisions about how he will live his life in the future.

Wesley gets suspicious of Angel after he refuses to take the Rileys' case and then insists on handling the case on his own. And when Angel is willing to let the untrained Connor Riley fight the demon Sahjhan, Wesley's suspicions intensify. So Wesley follows the paper trail linking Angel to Cyvus Vail. And finds the contract that Angel signed authorizing the alteration of the Angel Investigation team's reality and memories. Wesley is convinced the spell affected their decision to join Wolfram and Hart, and possibly changed reality in other ways as well.

Wesley goes to Vail's to confront Angel and overhears Vail say that the Orlon Window can "bring back the past". Illyria helps him obtain the talisman. Angel is desperate that Wesley be careful with it. Hoping that he may have the key to restoring Fred's life, Wesley throws the Window to the ground. The Window shows Wesley the events that Cyvus' memory spell erased: the infancy of Connor, the role Wesley played in creating Connor's hellish life, and the downward spiral Wesley went into afterwards. When it is over, Fred is still dead, and they are still employed at Wolfram and Hart.

Wesley now has two sets of memories. He clings to his false memories to protect himself from the harshness of those that are true. He has changed remarkably in the last three years--gotten tougher, harder--but now he sees that not all those changes were brought on by something good.

When Angel finds out that the family of "Connor Riley" have come to Wolfram and Hart for help, he is not happy. But after Cyvus Vail threatens to return Connor's memory if Connor does not fight Sahjhan, Angel takes his super-naturally strong son under his wing. He doesn't want Connor fighting Sahjhan, but he wants Connor's memory returned even less. Believing he will be able to interfere and help his son, he allows Connor to face the demon. During the battle, Angel is prevented from stopping Sahjhan. He is also unable to protect Connor from the Orlon Window. Connor's past is returned to him. That vision is enough to convince the young man to put distance between himself and Angel's world, at least for now.

And though Angel wants him in that better life, it breaks his heart to watch his son leave.

Angel's culpability in Fred's death and his friends' corruption

Gunn is still in the Wolfram and Hart holding dimension, getting his heart ripped out--and other torments--day after day. Marcus Hamilton arrives and removes the memory-wiping amulet. He introduces himself and tells Gunn his friends aren't working on a rescue plan. He offers to help Gunn get out of his self-imposed hell in exchange for something the Senior Partners want. Gunn asks for his necklace back.

The initial growth of power and influence that accompanied their takeover of W&H hid a terrible truth: when dealing with the devil, the little details matter. ...Gunn signs a piece of paper and suddenly Fred is annihilated, replaced by an ancient demon. ...His defining moment wasn't his choice to stay [in the holding dimension]. Guilt and regret shackled him ...he chose amnesia. Agony, yes, but also forgetfulness. But in that moment when Marcus offered him a form of salvation, I believe he made a choice far more difficult. He had experienced the torment of the hell-dimension, begged for mercy. And mercy came...for just a small price. Gunn, however, had truly learned his lesson: there are no small prices for large gains (Random, 4/21/04 22:58 ).

While his unwillingness to strike a deal with the devil is wonderful, ...[Gunn's] not much of a hero now - trapped in a repeating loop of torture and pain - but he could be. Making amends is ...about learning from your mistakes and resolving not to make them again.... Until Gunn is ready to return to the world - as one who sees the world as it is, but lives the way it should be - he's not a hero, yet. He's on the path, but not at the destination (Tyreseus, 4/22/04 12:20).

Philosophies Represented in "Origin"

Free will, knowledge and choice

No decision is ever made with complete free will. We make decisions based on what we have learned from past experience. If our experiences had been different, our choices based on them will be different as well. Memory is the record we have of our past experience. Alter that, and our view of the past will change. This in turn will influence the choices we make. When Angel made the deal to join Wolfram and Hart, he either stipulated that his friends' memories be altered along with Connor's, or Wolfram and Hart stipulated it and Angel agreed. Either way, this stipulation changed his friends' view of the past. And it took effect while they were still on their tour of the facilities, making up their minds about joining the firm.

During Wesley's investigation of Cyvus Vail's spell, Illyria tells him that Fred's memory was altered, and that that changed her. When Wesley finds the contract Angel signed to implement the memory alterations, he concludes they have all been changed. The question is, in what ways and how much? Would they have refused to come to Wolfram and Hart if their memories had not been altered? Would Gunn have helped get the "mystery object" through customs that inadvertently spelled Fred's doom? Would Fred have been more cautious around the sarcophagus that infected her with Illyria's essence? Were there vital experiences in their stolen pasts that would have helped them make different choices?

Angel suspects as much in Underneath:

Spike: "Fred wanted to be here. It was her choice."
Angel: "Was it?"

Angel's culpability in what happened depends in part on how much the false memories effected his friend's decisions. But at the very least, he is responsible for taking away something of theirs that was not his to take--he robbed them of their experiences.

Time Bomb

The Metaphysics of "Time Bomb"

The Fell Brethren are a demon cult with bald heads and black robes and capes. They have come to Wolfram and Hart to sign a ceremonial pact with a young human woman, Amanda. Angel will also be required to sign as their witness. Amanda ("the Vessel") is pregnant with a child that the Brethren's seers claim is destined to play an important role in their religion (Amanda uses the words "holy" and "Dalai Lama").

Time-shifting: Illyria's human shell is losing its ability to contain her demon essence. Cracks have formed in the shell, and her power is leaking out. She is emanating energy in a way that can be tracked and it is triggering sudden and uncontrollable time-shifts. Eventually, she will self-destruct violently, taking perhaps half the continent with her.

The original linear sequence of events:

1. Illyria rescues Gunn from the holding dimension
2. Illyria, Angel, and Spike talk outside the training room
3. Illyria and Wesley talk in Wesley's office
4. Illyria confronts Angel in the hallway outside the conference room
5. Wesley tells Angel about the Mutari Generator in the science lab
6. Illyria is confronted by the gang in the training room and kills them
7. Angel from the past (4) sees the remains of his friends and himself in the training room

On a visit to Wesley's office (3), Illyria doubles over and finds herself at a future point in time, standing in the training room (6). She sees Angel tell Wesley to shoot her with a large silver rifle. After that, Illyria moves back and forth in time again (2) until she is back in Wesley's office (3). She confronts him angrily, believing that he plans to kill her. He does not know what she is talking about since he has no such plans. Illyria then goes to confront Angel (4). Angel does not know what she is talking about because he has not yet heard Wesley's plan to use the Mutari Generator.

Angel then goes to the science lab to find out how Wesley plans to kill Illyria (5). He, Wesley, and Spike take the Mutari Generator to the training room, where their tracking beacon has placed Illyria (6). Illyria is there, hidden. When the men enter with Lorne, she kills them all. Still out of control of her powers, Illyria shifts back to the moment she confronts Angel in the hall (4), then back into Wesley's office (3). Only this time, the Angel from the hallway (4) is with her. He has been caught up in her temporal wake. Together, they go back to the moment she saved Gunn from the holding dimension (1).

Then they shift forward to the training room at a time after Illyria has killed all the men (7). Angel sees the remains of himself and his friends scattered through the room. Illyria's shell finally fails and she explodes in a burst of energy. Angel is thrown back to the point where the the gang had entered the training room to shoot Illyria (6). He sees his friends standing in the positions where they will die.

Angel is able to use his knowledge of the future to save Spike. Then he and his friends save Illyria from self-destruction.

The Mutari Generator works by puncturing a tiny hole into a negatively-charged dimension which then draws the energy exploding out of Illyria into itself. Wesley uses the device just long enough to leave Illyria with a minimal amount of her essence, enough to allow her to live. She still has greater physical strength than a human, but not enough power to shift time or cross between dimensions.

Evil in "Time Bomb"

The Fell Brethren are a pretty typical demon cult. Despite the fact that they are taking care of Amanda's unborn infant and will probably worship it upon its birth just as they say they will, the child's role is ultimately to be a sacrifice in their religious ceremony. As in comparable human ceremonies, they will give the child a place of honor, bestow him with gifts, but on the eve of his thirteen year, he will die.

Wolfram and Hart

"It's a business, boys, not a bat cave... It's profits that let you keep this plucky little boat-load of good above water." --Marcus Hamilton

There is an invisible war between good and evil going on in the world, and Wolfram and Hart is at the forefront of it--on the wrong side. Angel wants to fight on the side of good, but all the good his team has done at the law firm has been accomplished by compromising with evil. Wolfram and Hart is only concerned with him making money for them and keeping their clients happy. And oh yes, there is that pesky little problem of Illyria they feel confident Angel will rid them of.

Illyria doesn't have much love for the Wolf, Ram, and Hart, either. She knew "the Partners" long ago, and they appear to have been adversaries. She just might be a resource to Angel's team yet.

Moral Ambiguity and Ethical Quandaries in "Time Bomb"

Amanda is a young pregnant woman whose husband has incurable brain damage that makes him unable to hold down a job or recognize her. She cannot afford to take care of her baby. The Fell Brethren came to her and said they would cure her husband in return for her child. As far as she knows, they will take care of the child and make him an important leader in their religion. All she has to do is sign a pact with them.

Gunn is back at Wolfram and Hart, but his heart is no longer in it. He doesn't want to play their game--making business go smoothly for their evil clients, contributing to the daily apocalypse of corruption. After Amanda defends her choice to give the Fell Brethren her child, Gunn is in turmoil. He knows that people who make contracts with demons often end up getting more than thought they were bargaining for. And the contract with the Fell is no different. Gunn discovers a clause that says the child is to undergo "the rites of Gordabach"--he will be made a ritual sacrifice at the age of 13. Gunn tries to prevent Amanda from signing the contract. It is unclear whether Amanda ever understands this clause. The demons threaten to tear apart Wolfram and Hart unless the signing goes smoothly.

Then Angel arrives and tells Gunn that they will cooperate with the Fell. When Gunn questions him, Angel, "serving no master but his ambition", tells Gunn that they're "doing what we're supposed to. Serving our clients".

Wesley is like two different people: a haunted, somber man outside his office, and a jittery obsessed researcher inside. He is trying to find a way to control Illyria so that he won't have to kill her as Angel has ordered. Wesley constructs a Mutari Generator and lies to Angel about its use. Although Wesley was willing to trade Illyria's life to get Fred back before, he realizes now that Illyria is all that is left of Fred. He needs to keep her alive and be her guide, not her betrayer.

Illyria is a powerful being who pretends that humans are insects to her, insignificant, but they can hurt her feelings and influence her actions. She stood by Wesley's side when he confronted Angel and then saved Gunn from the holding dimension. Wesley argues that they can use her as a resource, but Angel wants to kill her: Illyria will use her power, he says, to get back the god-like influence she lost. When Illyria's powers get out of her control, she feels even more vulnerable to Angel and the others. Her voice at one point even becomes Fred's. So she resists Wesley's attempts to save her life by draining her power. "I am my power," she responds. But trying to hold on to her power rather than letting it be drained will kill her. After Wesley drains her, he predicts she will still try to conquer everything in her path. Her ability to influence things without being influenced in return is how she defines herself.

Philosophies Represented in "Time Bomb"

Illyria's political philosophy

Illyria doesn't believe in sharing and peace--the morality of good. The only way to win, to be a ruler, in her view, is by "conquering all". You do not compromise or adapt yourself to another; you do not give your enemies a chance to attack you; you take everything in your path and destroy anything that eludes your grasp. And you do not hide your ambitions behind deceptive benevolence or the appearance of compromise.

Angel's problem at Wolfram and Hart, Illyria believes, is that he is unwilling to use the power he has there. He is too worried about the consequences using that power will have on the world. And all Angel's good deeds have been accomplished through compromise with his enemy. If you want to win a war, Illyria tells him, you must serve no master but your own ambition.

So what is Angel's philosophy? When he gives custody of Amanda's child to the Fell, is he following Illyria's philosophy, Wolfram and Hart's philosophy, or has he found some hidden wisdom in Illyria's philosophy that he can use to wage the war against evil on his own terms?

The Girl in Question

The Metaphysics of "The Girl in Question"

The Capo di Famiglia of the Goran clan is dead. When these demons get old, their heads sag and fall off. But if Angel and Spike can retrieve the head in the next 26 hours, the Capo's family will be able to use it to pupate a new body following the proper rituals. Any longer, and the Capo stays dead. And if that happens, there will be a power vacuum, a vacuum that will likely be filled by a feuding rival clan much less tolerant of humans.

Illyria has lost a great deal of her powers, but she can still change her appearance at will. When Fred's parents show up unexpectedly at Wolfram and Hart, Illyria appears to them as their daughter: and it isn't just her hair and clothes (the dress Fred wore when she died), but her voice, her mannerisms, and her personality. Would Illyria have been able to do such a convincing job before Wesley smashed the Orlon Window? This is unknown. However, it seems unlikely that she would have felt inclined to try before that, and before she lost her powers.

Is The Immortal a vampire? Darla doesn't seem to think so, but she isn't sure what he is. All that we know about him is that he is handsome, immortal, and a man of considerable talent and charm, something he manages to pull off without the use of spells, which he finds "dirty".

The invitation to vampires: Andrew's previous residence burned down, and now he is "crashing" at Buffy and Dawn's Rome apartment. Does that give him invitation rights? Since he has no other place to call home and his own set of keys, he is a resident.

Moral Ambiguity in "The Girl in Question"

Why exactly does Illyria chose to imitate Fred? She tells Wesley that she doesn't want to experience the Burkles' grief the way she has experienced Wesley's. Is this an act of kindness, an attempt to avoid something she finds unpleasant, or is she simply exploring her new memories and physical shell with nothing but an intellectual interest in the emotional impact of her actions?

She shares [Fred's] body and her memories, but (despite her protestations) wants to understand this "shell" and what it is about this girl that Wesley loved so much and what makes her who she is. ...Last week, she said that her powers were her, and to lose them would mean to lose herself. Now that they are gone, she is facing a major crisis of identity. That by which she had always defined herself is gone. Now she needs to find a new identity. Could the former identity of this "shell" whose memory she shares be who she is now? That is what she is doing here, I think. And what a perfect opportunity to study Fred...what better opportunity than with her parents? ...I also think that despite what she says, her memories and newly neutered body might be having a combined effect of making her more human and sympathetic. Whether she admits it or not, what she did by turning herself into Fred was perform an act of kindness for the Burkles (Rob, 2004-05-06 7:28)

I think this is the question. What she values? She is empathic but has yet to be empathetic. Last night she showed that [in playing Fred for the Burkles]--whether it had meaning to her or not is up for debate. ...Before, she was tossing Spike, testing the physical boundaries, now she is testing the emotional. Maybe Fred's shell is impacting that, I am not sure (2004-05-06 10:23). ...She is like a baby, dropping the toy, to see the parent pick it up. Over and over. She will find Wes's breaking point and Fred's shell certainly would do that. I think she knows it too. If she has gained empathy, then she also knows what the reverse, the mirror of that is (ann, 2004-05-06 10:49).

Wesley is disturbed by Illyria's choice to imitate Fred, and even more disturbed by her skill in doing it. But he only insists that she stop after Fred's parents leave. Her experiment has proved one thing: the image of Fred she has produced attracts him, no matter how tormented he was by seeing her imitate his lost love.

Usually when you hunt down an ex ...What you are chasing is the memory, not the reality. An idea emphasized by Illyria who appears to pose as Fred - and Wes can't handle it. He wants the old Fred. The one he fell in love with. This new Illyria/Fred hybrid creature is false to his eyes, she's not true to the memory. She's worse, a mockery ...But I got the feeling that we had three men chasing dreams or girls they'd worshiped, but who in reality didn't exist (shadowkat, 2004-05-05 23:28).

Unanswered question: Why haven't Angel and the others told the Burkles about Fred's death before now?

I'd like to think [Angel] would [have told the Burkles about Fred], but everyone seems pretty disconnected from the outside world this "Ivory Tower" mode. It may just have been too hard for them to do, particularly over the phone, so it kept getting pushed off. I think it's meant as another criticism, particularly of Wes, who Fred had asked, among her last words, to tell her parents that she went bravely (Rob, 2004-05-06 07:34).

The Immortal straddles the line between good or evil, serving no master but his own concerns. One minute he's chaining up two of the most notorious vampires of his day--not to kill them, only to spend a little time with their women (who he also does not kill)--the next he's robbing Angelus of several nuns he wanted to victimize. He spent 150 years in a Tibetan monastery, has climbed Mount Everest (more than once), and can charm any woman alive (or undead). But he has his flaws.

He isn't Mr. Perfect. He's a bit of a dog. I don't think the guy is really into commitment. He is just having fun with the Slayer now. Nothing too serious. Buffy needs that. Lots of dancing and snuggling and great sex. Is this a character that she is going to confide in? Doubt it. He isn't the long haul guy. Buffy has moved on, not settled down (lunasea, 2004-05-06 5:24).

Angel and Spike have been getting along these days, working together at Wolfram and Hart and putting aside their old rivalries. But there is one issue still left between them: Buffy. And that issue doesn't bring out the best in either of them. They head to Italy together to fetch the head of the Capo di Famiglia, but they are really more interested in "freeing" their Slayer ex from the "clutches" of the Immortal. Finding out that Buffy is dating him (obviously under magical coercion, they assume) only makes them more intent. And considerably less conscientious about keeping their hands on the Capo's head.

They lose the demon head in a nightclub where they go to to find Buffy, then discover at the Rome offices of Wolfram and Hart that the head has been taken hostage. Spike and Angel are ready to go up against the kidnappers with an assault team (they've obviously been living in America way too long), but that isn't the way things are done in Italy. Ilona Costa Bianchi, CEO of Wolfram and Hart, Rome, gives them money to pay off the kidnappers. But Angel and Spike, distracted again, don't look in the bag before they hand over the money, and they manage to lose the head again. Not to mention their coats.

They've lost their heads over Buffy, dropped everything to go chasing after her. When they finally re-focus on the head, their attention still half on Buffy, half on the past - the bag allegedly containing the head explodes in their face. ...Buffy let Angel and Spike go in Chosen, and now in The Girl in Question - Angel and Spike must let go of Buffy and move on (shadowkat, 2004-05-05 23:28).

After falling victim to the kidnapper's bomb, they drop by Buffy's place one more time, where Andrew assures them Buffy has taken up with the Immortal of her own free will. They head back to Los Angeles without the Capo's head. But there will be no demon war for power. Luckily, the head is waiting for them back in Angel's office, a gift from the plucky Immortal.

"The rivalry for Buffy's attention was the last point of contention between Angel and Spike; now that she's moved on and they've moved on (maybe), they can dive into the coming apocalyptic battle from a position of complete trust (cjl, 5/06/04 11:04).

Gunn is finding himself at odds with Angel these days. Angel seems to have turned his back on everything he said only a week ago about not compromising with Wolfram and Hart.

Power Play

The Metaphysics of "Power Play"

Boretz demons are nasty buggers. They smell bad and have a poisonous bite. They also have a habit of dressing up as transients in order to prey on the homeless. One particular Boretz is stalking victims in an abandoned amusement park. Spike and Illyria head out to kill it. When the Boretz attacks, Spike fights it and Illyria kills it with a kicking blow.

The Sathari are a clan of demon assassins. They carry four blades that are tipped with poison.

Tapping into the template interface: Wesley goes to his source books to get information on the Boretz. While he is reading, the text disappears and the words, "You are looking in the wrong place," appear. On the next page a picture of a circle made out of black thorns is superimposed on the text.

Angel, sex, and perfect happiness: Although Angel's date with Nina might make us suspect he's lost his soul, he hasn't. He's still Angel.

Angel requires a moment of "perfect happiness" to lose his soul. It's not about sex, or even love. I would propose that Angel's life is now so tormented and convoluted that he'll never experience that again, unless contrived by magic as it was when the Gang needed Angelus back to find the Beast. His son is gone to a different life. Cordelia is dead. Fred is worse than dead, as her soul is destroyed. He killed Drogyn. Buffy is doing the Immortal. He's heading up Hell, Inc. I'm guessing "perfect happiness" is going to be even more elusive than it was when he was simply a whiny brooding Vamp With A Soul (lirrin, 2004-05-13 11:16).

Drogyn the battlebrand was given eternal youth a thousand years ago (who did this is not made clear). He is champion of good who knew Angel in the past and considered him an ally in the fight. He is also an old acquaintance of Marcus Hamilton of Wolfram and Hart. Drogyn is unable to lie (why not is also unclear, although Spike calls this a "curse"). He can also locate anyone who has been to the Deeper Well no matter where they might be. He shows up in an abandoned amusement park to warn Spike that Angel tried to have him killed. Spike and the others take Drogyn into protective custody.

Cordelia's visions were passed to her from Doyle shortly before his death through a goodbye kiss. Cordelia's goodbye kiss to Angel shortly before her own death passed the visions to Angel. Or at least, the ability to have a single vision later that night. In the vision, Angel sees cryptic images of the Circle of the Black Thorn.

Glamors are spells used to disguise or hide something. When Angel's friends confront him in his office the second time, Angel pulls out a red talisman and says, "Involvere!" He then tells his friends about his plan to kill the Circle of the Black Thorne. From the perspective of Marcus Hamilton, who is looking into Angel's office from the hallway, it appears as if Angel is holding his hostile friends at bay by threatening Lorne. The glamor lasts for six minutes and then collapses.

Evil in "Power Play"

"Evil's not the point. Power is."

The Circle of the Black Thorn is a small elite secret society of demons (and humans?) who are the Senior Partners' instrument on Earth. Since the Partners exist on another plane, it is the Black Thorn that keeps the machinery of the never-ending Apocalypse running. They encourage humanity's worst impulses, not out of any belief in evil, but because using people to serve your own interests and making deals with those without scruples is the shortest path to weilding and maintaining power. And power means control over your own life--and the lives of others.

The Circle of the Black Thorn are Wolfram and Hart personified (or is that demonified?). Their ranks include demons we've met before: the Archduke Sebassis, Cyvus Vail, Izzerial, the devil demon from "You're Welcome". And Senator Helen Brucker, a demon masquerading as a human who intends to become President of the United States. Brucker asks Wolfram and Hart to do a spell to brain-wash the public into believing that her opponent in the senatorial race is a pedophile.

Angel agrees to her request as part of a scheme to infiltrate the Circle. After that, he has to complete just one more deed to become a member of their society. Marcus Hamilton attacks Illyria, captures the hero Drogyn and delivers him to the Circle. They beat him down. Then Angel enters their private warren through a firey passageway. He removes Drogyn's hood, drinks from him, then breaks his neck. A black thorn tattoo is burnt into his chest. He has completed his initiation into the Circle of the Black Thorn.

Moral Ambiguity and Good in "Power Play"

Just what drives Lindsey McDonald?

All season long, Lindsey has been trying to infiltrate the Circle of the Black Thorn. Why?

[W]hen he left at the end of S2 [Lindsey] certainly didn't want to work for the Senior Partners. ...Lindsey may have been trying to do the same thing Angel had: infiltrate the Black Thorn to attack the Senior Partners from within. This could explain why he didn't want the SP to know where he was (he could have used an assumed identity when approaching the Circle), and why he resurrected kill Angel (with possible plans to later kill Spike, too). Spike could have been a contingency plan, in case Lindsey found himself incapable of taking out Angel himself. By prepping him as the new "Champion for the Helpless," he could have been hoping to slowly manipulate Spike into seeing Angel as the Enemy who had to be taken out to help the Little People of L.A. Coming to the Circle from the position of having just caused the death of the Vampire With a Soul would have probably greatly helped his chances of getting in. ...[M]ere vengeance [against Angel] after all these years doesn't seem right, especially after the understanding they reached in Dead End) but a means to an end of being accepted in the Circle of the Black Thorn. ...I wonder, btw, if he had been planning on having Eve be his sacrifice, as the Black Thorn believed Fred was for Angel. This would explain why he seemed to hold her more at arm's length than she did for him (Rob 2004-05-16 02:04).

While Lindsey may have seen "helping the world" as a side benefit of destroying the Circle, this formerly dirt-poor ex-Wolfram and Hart attorney isn't ultimately motivated by the best interests of the world. For him it was a way to gain power.

The corruption of Angel: Angel has been acting odd for a long while now. First, he lost his heroic spirit and his belief in his destiny. Then he began to question whether he and his friends were doing any good at Wolfram and Hart. And lately he seems to have lost interest in doing good at all. He gave Amanda's child to the Fell Brethren, and now is willing to aid an evil senator in her rise to power. And he has no interest at all in the "small stuff"--helping the helpless who fill the city.

Wesley knows that Angel signed a contract with Wolfram and Hart that altered his friend's memories. And though Angel did it to save his son, it seems to have been the first step down a path of corruption. Illyria speculates that Angel's increasing distance from his friends was the next step. It was the kind of distance that would allow him, eventually, to harm them if it suited his purposes. When Drogyn appears and tells them that Angel sent to a demon to kill him, they realize Angel may have harmed one of them already--Fred. Drogyn claims that Angel was trying to hide evidence from Drogyn that proved that he arranged to free Illyria: that he was responsible for Fred's death; that she was a "sacrifice" made in exchange for power.

Wesley struggles to make sense of this. Angel never was interested in power before. Lorne points out that Angel(us) never had this level of power before he came to Wolfram and Hart. "It tends to make people want things," he says. "Even if they start with the best intentions." They conclude this power has gone to Angel's head. And Angel certainly doesn't give them reason to believe differently when they confront him the first time. The CEO of Wolfram and Hart, Los Angeles is "playing ball" with his evil clients in order to become a member of the Circle of the Black Thorn.

The gang concludes that the Angel they knew is dead or dying--"killed by degrees". They are determined to save him, or kill him if they must. They confront Angel again. A fight ensues. Angel grabs Lorne, then invokes a glamor.

Good as deception: Angel explains that two months before, Cordelia enabled him to have a vision of the Circle of the Black Thorn. He didn't know what to do the cryptic information at the time. Gradually, he learned more about this group and their raison d'être. And when Illyria gave him her speech about using the power available to him, he came up with a plan. He would infiltrate the Circle by having them believe he'd become corrupted by power.

Angel did what he had to to make the Circle believe that his friends distrusted him, to make them believe he'd arranged Fred's death, to make them believe he was no longer a champion, to make them believe that he was willing to kill someone who was a champion. All necessary steps to be considered for initiation in the Circle. And once he gained entrance into the Circle, he was able to get a good look at all its members.

He tells Wesley, Gunn, Lorne and Spike about his plan: they are going to kill every member of the Circle of the Black Thorn. But, he warns them, doing so will bring the wrath of the Senior Partners. They can all expect to die if they participate. He asks each of them to volunteer for the mission. One by one, each man raises his hand.

Unanswered question: Angel tells his friends that everything they've come to believe about him is a lie. And yet, it was necessary to fool Drogyn into thinking Angel had been corrupted in order for his plan to work; Drogyn, after all, is incapable of deception, even for the greater good. And Angel had to kill a champion for his plan to work. Presumably, therefore, he killed Drogyn without Drogyn's permission. So maybe Angel was embracing "the ends justify the means" after all.

Philosophies Represented in "Power Play"

All things philosophical on "Angel the Series"

Illyria is at loose ends, unsure what to do with herself and her new existence. "I play this game," she says (of Crash Bandicoot, or life?) "It's pointless, and annoys me. And yet I'm compelled to play on." Staying at Wolfram and Hart is at least giving her something to do with her time--fighting demons, defending Drogyn. But does it have any meaning for her?


"The smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world." --Epiphany

When Wesley and the others confront Angel the first time, he appears to have given up his old mission. He seems to have embraced the guiding philosophy of the Circle of the Black Thorn, and Wolfram and Hart (see Blind Date):

There is no good and evil, only power, and the willingness to use it.

Angel tells his friends that their way of thinking--the insistence on clearly defined lines of "good" and "evil"--was what kept Angel Investigations ultimately disempowered in their fight against their enemies. It took working at Wolfram and Hart to make Angel realize this, he says. Power is required to accomplish anything worthwhile in life, and power is only gained by the willingness to accept shades of gray, to step over the lines Angel Investigations refused to cross.

Angel wants his friends to believe (and whoever else might be listening in on their conversation) that he is willing to use Wolfram and Hart's methods to accomplish the greater good, that he has become the ultimate poster boy for "the ends justify the means".

"Power corrupts."

Lorne doesn't buy Angel's new philosophy. You get powerful enough, he tells the others later, and the people you're fighting for begin to look insignificant. Expendable. You loose the mission, bro.

"Serve no master but your ambition." --Time Bomb

In reality, of course, Angel has not bought Wolfram and Hart's party line. He just wants the Senior Partners to think he has. He goes on and on about "winning" and "running a business" and the need for "power". Illyria's political philosophy made him decide to behave as if he had become corrupted by power.

Angel does acknowledge that power is Wolfram and Hart's advantage over them. But that doesn't mean he's trying to make a grab for the kind of power the Circle of the Black Thorne and the Senior Partners have. Because the masses of humanity have something else to fight with.

"Heroes don't accept the way the world is." --Underneath

Angel's plan to strike out at the members of the Circle of the Black Thorn is an example of what I call Good-as-Chaos, an attempt by those with less power to bullocks up "the system" of those in power--the "machine". The powerful may rule the world, but those who oppose them should never stop trying to bring them down, no matter how futile the fight might seem.

"The powerful control everything. Except our will to choose."

In killing the Circle of the Black Thorne, they will cut off the Senior Partner's eyes and arms on Earth, at least for a while. And they will make a statement about inviolate nature of human choice, even under the thumb of the powerful (see Peace Out).

Not Fade Away

The Metaphysics of "Not Fade Away"

The war for humanity: Millions of years ago, before recorded human history, great beings walked the Earth, among them those beings now known as the Powers that Be. Gradually, the malevolent among these beings grew stronger and claimed the Earth as their own, driving the more benevolent into other realms. Thus began the era of "The Old Ones", when the Earth was ruled by pure demons. Among these demons were beings known as the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. At that time, they were weak by demon standards.

Over time, non-demon species, including humans, appeared on the Earth. Human beings, through their own resources (e.g., the creation of Slayers), general sneakiness, and the other-worldy aid of the PTBs, killed the pure demons and drove the remainder into the demon dimensions. The demons that remained on Earth were human hybrids, like vampires. From their place in another realm, the Wolf, Ram, and Hart began to develop a base of power on Earth (as well as other dimensions) using a variety of emissaries (The Conduit, The Circle of the Black Thorn). They grew in strength and power and control over human society. The Powers that Be did what they could from their own realm to fight the on-going manipulation of humanity, but it was important to them to do so without interfering with human choice and free will.

Destiny: The Circle of the Black Thorn present Angel with the original scroll of Aberjian on which the Shanshu Prophecy was written. The prophecy says, among other things, that the Vampire with a Soul will play a pivotal role in the apocalypse, and as a result, will earn back his lost humanity. They ask Angel to sign away any claim he has to this destiny, in his own blood. His signature on that document, they claim, will "undo" the prophecy. Is it possible to to sign away your destiny? "Destiny", by definition, seems to be the kind of thing you can't avoid. Perhaps it is unimportant whether or not Angel can sign away his own destiny. In signing the document, he makes it clear he is willing to live or die without ever becoming human again.

Hamilton is strong, but he isn't invulnerable. He throws Angel around, destroying the pillars and walls in the lobby of Wolfram and Hart in the process. He tells Angel that his blood has been imbued with the power of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. So Angel sinks his teeth into the liaison's neck, infusing himself with that same strength. Then Angel hits Hamilton until he falls dead.

Good and Evil in "Not Fade Away"

All is bound by the Circle and its thorns,
We, the seeds of the storm,
at the center of the world's woe,
now convene.

The Circle of the Black Thorn want to eliminate the possibility that Angel has joined their group in order to manipulate or destroy them. To that end, they demand that Angel sign away any claim he has to the Shanshu--the prophecy that says Angel will earn his humanity by stopping the Apocalypse. But people who don't care about anything will never understand the people who do. Angel does not need a reward to fight the good fight. It's what he believes in, and what he is willing to die for.

The destruction of the Circle

Angel's plan is to wait until each member of the Circle is isolated. Then he and the gang will take them out one by one. He tells his friends to spend the intervening time living the day as if it were their last. Lorne goes out and sings. Lindsey spends time with Eve. Spike finds a bar where there is a live mike for poetry readings. He lubes himself up with some drinks and deftly reads his "bad poetry" to an appreciative crowd. Gunn visits friends from his old neighborhood. Wesley treats Illyria's wounds. Angel visits his son.

When night falls, each member of the gang carries out their assigned task. Angel has already paved the way for Archduke Sebassis' death. When Sebassis' servant became entangled in Cyvus Vail's tubes at the meeting of the Circle, Angel pushed the servant back. In the process, he stabbed the servant with a ring containing a slow-acting poison. When Sebassis drinks his servant's blood, he dies of the poison. Gunn throws an ax into Senator Brucker's forehead, then takes on all her vampire body guards. Spike sneaks into the Fell Brethren's monastery. He takes on the demons with Amanda's baby in one hand and a sword in the other. Lindsey takes out the Sahrvin Clan with the help of Lorne. Illyria goes after Izzerial the devil and three other members of the Circle. She makes trophies of their spines. Then she goes to find Wesley.

Wesley, the expert on magic and demons, is assigned to Cyvus Vail. His job is to trick Vail into thinking that he wants what Angel has--his seat on the Circle. Angel is gambling that Vail will believe this because the Circle sees Wesley as dangerously unstable. Wesley gets himself invited into Vail's home where he attacks the old demon with a ball of mystical energy. But although Vail is frail, his magic is still strong. He takes Wesley's spell into his own hand and freezes Wesley in mid-air. Wesley pulls a knife on him. Vail stabs Wesley in the gut with a kukri, then turns the blade. Wesley smacks him down with the ball of magic.

Angel's plan also includes taking out the liaison to the Senior Partners, but Hamilton's strength proves almost too much for him. Just as Hamilton is about to stake Angel, Connor intervenes. He's come to Wolfram and Hart suspecting that Angel's sentimental visit was more than it seemed. Connor and Angel take on Hamilton together. Hamilton butts Connor in the head and tosses him away. After Connor recovers, he tells Angel he wants to help him fight. Angel sends him home. As long as his son is still alive, the Senior Partners have not succeeded in destroying Angel.

After Angel kills Hamilton, the earth below the Wolfram and Hart building starts to shake. It seems the Senior Partners want to fire their CEO. Angel leaves to rendezvous with his friends in the alley just north of the Hyperion hotel. Spike is there already. Then Gunn shows up, bleeding badly. Finally Illyria arrives. She tells them Wesley is dead. They hear distant shouts. An army of demons enters the alley. A dragon flies overhead. Angel prepares to slay the dragon.

"Let's go to work!" he tells his friends.

Joss ended "Angel" the way he did because "fighting the good fight" and how "there is no big win" was always the mission statement of "Angel." The fight goes on. It's a series of battles, small and large (Tim Minear, 6/3/2004 4:19 pm).

Moral Ambiguity in "Not Fade Away"

Connor regained his memories when Wesley broke the Orlon Window. Those memories are now mixed in with the manufactured ones, coming back to him like a bad dream. He doesn't want to dwell on that past, however. He understands what Angel did for him, and he's grateful for it. Connor wants to concentrate on the future, on the new life his biological father gave him. At the same time, he accepts that that new life may sometimes include using the abilities he was born with, and the training he learned in the nightmare called Quortoth.

Harmony suspects something is going down, and tells Angel she wants to be part of his plans. Angel fully expects Harmony to betray him, however. She doesn't have a soul, a moral compass that guides her towards right over wrong. And she is already working in secret with Hamilton, her lover, to uncover what Angel might be up to. Angel tells Harmony to keep Hamilton distracted so he can visit Archduke Sebassis, which is exactly the kind of move Hamilton would expect from an Angel trying to pull one over on him. When Angel finally exposes Harmony's betrayal, she tells him that it is his fault--that she could have changed if only he'd "had confidence in her". And while Angel may have been an insensitive boss, it was never his job to give Harmony what only she could give herself. Instead, Angel gives her a letter of recommendation for another job. And Harmony leaves happily, the good fight be damned.

Lindsey is all for bringing down the Circle of the Black Thorn, and he believes that Angel will treat him fairly as long as Angel needs his help with the fight. Afterwards, though, is another matter. Angel tells Lindsey he needs someone to step in and take over the reins at Wolfram and Hart when the battle is done. Lindsey knows Angel may not actually let this happen. In his mind, it is just as likely that Angel will turn against him, and Angel does, but not in the way that Lindsey expects. After he defeats the Sahrvin, it is Lorne who pulls a gun on him. Lindsey is shocked that this is the way it ends--that though Lindsey considered Angel his "best enemy", Angel didn't even care enough to kill Lindsey himself.

Lorne is given the task of "backing up" Lindsey against the Sahrvin. And the task of killing him. Lorne does as Angel asks, because he has read Lindsey's soul. He knows Lindsey's motives can't be trusted. But it is too much for Lorne. Between Fred's death and the lines that Angel has crossed to fight evil, he has seen and done too much he can't abide. When the others gather in the alley to battle the Senior Partner's forces, Lorne is not there to fight beside them.

Illyria's loyalties are uncertain, but after Hamilton beats her, Illyria is willing to fight against the forces of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart to avenge her humiliation. And Wesley's willingness to help her moves her, making her feel concern for him in return. After she kills four members of the Circle, she seeks Wesley out and finds him dying. She changes her appearance for him, letting him spend one last moment with "Fred". Then she kills Vail by throwing her fist through his skull. When she joins the others in the alley, she is experiencing grief. She wishes to do more violence.

Philosophies Represented in "Not Fade Away"

Angel and his friends have spent the last year at Wolfram and Hart, trying to do the "work" of the good fight using the resources of this powerful law firm. Meanwhile, out on the street, Gunn's friend Anne is still gathering what odds and ends she can find to help the homeless, indigent, and neglected people of her neighborhood. Gunn's experience at Wolfram and Hart has made him wonder if there is any way to win against the Senior Partners, even with all the resources and power he had. Their evil seems heartless, intractable, eternal. He asks Anne what she would do if she knew all her efforts would never make things better.

"I'd get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here," she says.

Gunn understands. You don't stop fighting. You don't stop trying to help. You keep doing the work of good. He gives Anne a hand.

Anne has carved a place for herself in the hellish world of LA, strives each day to make it less of a hell for those around her. Anne also symbolizes in some ways Angel's and Spike's journeys - she was inspired by Buffy to help others and has fallen down at times - relying on WR&H for money and support in Blood Money, but broken free of that in Thin Dead Line (shadowkat, 4/17/04 8:30).

"The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn't look like there's a light at the end of the tunnel, he's going to keep digging, he's going to keep trying to do right and make up for what's gone before, just because that's who he is." (joss, November 4, 2003).

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN' SHOW. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn." (joss, Feb 14 22:31 2004)

Masquerade's note: We're really glad you didn't, Joss.

Angel: the Series copyright © 2004 The WB Television Network.
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This page last modified 6/26/08

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