Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whedonverse Classic: ANGEL's "The Price" Review

Credit: Buffy Wiki
There are many terrific/great/outstanding/insert-your-own-adjective-here episodes of Buffy and ANGEL and Firefly and Dollhouse. The greatest ones have been written about ad-nauseum. I've been brainstorming ideas for awhile now about what to write during the uninteresting summer TV months. I knew I wanted to write about the Whedonverse again. Joss is the biggest name in Hollywood thanks to the success of The Avengers. Joss must have many news fans; perhaps they're eagerly devouring 12 combined seasons of the Buffyverse or finally realizing why Firefly's been as popular as it's been the last ten years. I don't know. TV With The Foot won't be the site on the internet where new fans will feel at home though, because I plan on writing about the more overlooked/ignored/forgotten/whatever-you-want-call-them episodes over the next three months. Specifically, I'll choose one episode from the five seasons of ANGEL and seven seasons of Buffy to write about.

Anyway, the third season of ANGEL is intense and barely stops to let the characters collect themselves and think about what's just happened and what's supposed to happen. ANGEL's sort of forgotten. No one ever thinks they need to watch ANGEL like they need to watch Buffy. Maybe the spinoff aspect of the series causes people to dismiss Buffy's sister show. I already wrote about my fond regard for ANGEL, and I even consider the series as better than Buffy. I thought about beginning the Whedonverse Classic with a Buffy episode but decided to start with ANGEL, particularly an ANGEL episode that's barely remembered or thought about.

Darla gave birth to Connor in "Lullaby." Baby Connor spawned a mini-arc about demons feverishly pursuing the child because of a prophecy. After demon threats were eliminated, Angel realized he needed to provide for the baby, so he took on more cases than ever, one case nearly resulted in Fred losing her head and so the gang stopped taking on every case they could. Bad Guy Holtz continued to train pissed off people to kill vampires. Wesley uncovered unsettling truths about the prophecy, 'The Father Will Kill The Son,' and conspired with Holtz to save Connor from a gruesome fate. Episodes #15-7 are dark, sad and painful. Holtz betrays Wesley, kidnaps Connor and jumps into a demon dimension. Wesley betrayed his team and nearly died from a sliced throat. Angel then tried to suffocate his former friend and co-worker with a pillow in a hospital. Desperate to find a way into the demon dimension, Angel dabbled in the dark arts, tried to create a portal, but the plan failed. Episodes #20-2 are about Connor's return as a badass demon fighter who's pissed off at his dad. He eventually finds his way through the portal.

Most fans probably remember these six episodes extremely well. Two episodes happen in between these insane events though. There's Gunn's "Double Or Nothing" in which he needs to repay an old debt to a demon, and then there's "The Price," which I'll write about today. In a random Google search of 'ranking angel episodes' I discovered one site that ranked "The Price" #76. I also saw a certain season two episode ranked #109 which, if mid-drink, would've caused an explosive spit-take. I feel confident in my belief that "The Price" doesn't occupy a special place in the minds of even the most ardent AtS fans.

"The Price" is about the price Angel pays for the dark magic he used in hopes of finding his son. Dark magic has a price, always. Supernatural slugs from Quar'toth come through the portal. If they jump into a human, the human's body eventually turns to sand. The slugs require a ridiculous amount of water. Of course the episode just isn't about killing the thirsty slugs; it's about Angel dealing with what's happened, the fallout with Wesley, a debate over whether the spell was worth the price of the slugs and etc.

Sometimes I forget how simple TV writing can be i.e. how effectively simple TV writing can be. There are podcasts, books and blogs devoted to teaching one how to write for TV, and they're full of great advice most of the time, but remove the neurosis about writing, the rules, everything which causes one to over think it, and all that remains is the page and yourself: you just need to tell a good story, a story that makes sense, and I won't argue "The Price" deserves more praise or recognition than it does (such arguments aren't the point of this 'series'). This episode is a great example of what an aspiring TV writer should watch to learn how to write a good spec. The one word I keep thinking of to describe "The Price" is professional. It's kind of episode TV writers are hired to do, why they get paid; it's the 19th episode of a grueling season, probably broken while scripts were being drafted, re-written, going into production, and the production draft might've not been finished until two days or even one day before production began (knowing how Joss shows worked). David Fury wrote the episode. He was on the Buffy staff, which means they ANGEL writers were probably in a crunch and needed help from one of the best writers on the staff or something. I assume Fury wrote this script as he outlined the season six finale or something. Anyway, the point is, "The Price" is a tight, polished, and professional episode.

The episode is also rather good: it's creepy and reminds me of older horror films about creepy crawlers terrorizing local youth. Transparent lobsters would probably elicit more laughs than anything else if mentioned at party in a hypothetical 'what would you do if transparent lobsters invaded your home' sort of way, but the post-production special effects team made these creatures creepy and icky. They sound like birds but scream like banshees. They force themselves into the mouths of unsuspecting people and feed on the moisture in the body and overheat them to the point where their body slowly disintegrates. There's a great 'turn' halfway through the episode when Angel makes the call to shut off the power to better see the supernatural slugs because they glow in the dark. Any horror film or creepy scene is enhanced by removing light from the scene, leaving only characters holding flashlights, unaware of where the slugs are but completely paranoid that they're always there.

The second half of "The Price" is dominated by the dark and the flashlights and the brainstorms about how to kill every single slug before they're accidentally released onto the populace. The first half is quiet and conversational. Nearly fifteen minutes pass before Spivey drops dead on the floor of The Hyperion lobby. Angel and the gang clean Baby Connor's room. As he cleans, Angel comes across an old snow globe he bought, but he doesn't remember why he bought Connor the snow globe, remembering it never snows in California (except for one time, Cordelia mentions, which adds another emotional layer to an already outstandingly moving scene because one thinks Angel might've bought the snow globe because of the time the snow saved his life, or maybe he just thought it'd be pretty for his to look at). Angel pushes his feelings down. He's so on-guard about people prying into his head to talk about these issues that he doesn't catch onto Groo's suggestion about the color of paint for the wall until a couple of seconds later, which also motivates Cordelia to sit Angel down and open him up.

When Angel opens up, he becomes angry because he's talking about the stuff he doesn't want to talk about. Cordelia thinks he needed to vent. Cordelia though vents more and wonders why she wasn't called to come back during the time when Angel got drunk on his own son's blood. She thinks she'd be able to do something. Angel tires of the conversational and quiet component of his interactions and demands a case. Fred reminds him of the fact that they haven't received a case in a week. Angel finds a guy in the lobby, but he quickly leaves after ingesting a slug; however, Angel thinks the dark magical pentagram in the center of the floor scared a potential client away, so he orders everyone to scrub away the pentagram. It's not until later, when the slug leaves what's left of Spivey's head, that the gang realizes their paying the price for using dark magic.

The episode's heart or core whatever you want to call it is the Wesley situation, which no one wants to deal with except for Fred, who feels bad for Wesley, and guilty for pushing him away and not giving him the chance to explain why he did what he did. Fred tries to persuade Cordy into discussing the matter with Angel. Cordy rejects the request. Gunn advises Fred to let it drop. Angel can't utter two sentences about Wes without wanting to punch a hole through every wall in the hotel. Fred thinks the gang needs him; she needs him. Angel puts her on the books. The books overwhelm her. She thinks of Wesley. Wes is an integral member of the team. They struggle without him; in fact, it's Wesley who saves the day.

The slugs are annoying and the thirstiest damn supernatural creatures on plant Earth but they're not any more than that until one goes inside Fred's body. (Fred was the damsel in distress alot during season three.) Suddenly, the stakes are raised. Gunn confronts Angel about the spell when his girlfriend is in danger of dying because of it. Gunn can't agree that the price was worth it especially when it failed. Connor isn't back. Connor's dead (Gunn's words). There are probably no words to describe what Angel wants to do to Gunn then and there. Things come full circle though. Gunn's desperate to save Fred. Angel, Cordy, Groo and Lorne don't know what to do to kill the slugs besides turning on every oven and attacking them with weapons. Wesley's the man they need. Gunn goes to Wes and convinces him to help, which Wes does, but only for Fred. Gunn saves Fred by forcing a bottle of alcohol down Fred's mouth (now not an actual bottle but the contents of the bottle i.e. the liquid). Cordelia takes care of the rest of the supernatural slugs through her demoness light or whatever the hell it is. Later, when Angel asks about Gunn's whereabouts, Gunn tries to sidestep the Wes part, only to admit he did what he needed to do and doesn't care if Angel gets that, but Angel does, because Gunn jumped down his throat not more than a couple of scenes ago about the same thing. Angel, cross-armed, says, "I think I get it," and asks, "We good now?

ANGEL's a serialized drama. But one can watch and enjoy "The Price" without needing to know the nuances of the story or the mythology and such. Maybe the accessibility of the episode turns passionate ANGEL fans away from "The Price" when ranking episodes. Die-hards tend to perceive stand-alone episodes as okay but they just want the really important episodes, the one that's for them and about them, and the one where their non-fan friend is sitting in the room completely befuddled by what's taking place. A non-fan would quite like "The Price." The story is effectively simple and arcs come full circle in a clean way. "The Price" also moves the story forward too. Connor returns. Lilah feels more heat from Linwood and Gavin. Wes pushes everyone away entirely, which sets him up for the dance with darkness over the next run of episodes into season four.

So, "The Price" is an overlooked episode in ANGEL, an episode people like but never particularly remember, but it's an example of the wonderful consistency of the show. Whether ANGEL was mythologically intense one week and a little horror film the next that took place by and large outside of the central arc the show was just good.

I think the first week of Whedonverse classic went well. Next week I'll write about an overlooked episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. I'll alternate between the two shows until I run out of ANGEL episodes.

1 comment:

TimeTravellingBunny said...

The only episodes on your list that I think are really good are No Place Like Home, Hell Bound and Witch; Guise Will be Guise is fun and has some witty commentary on Angel/Buffy and Angel/Darla; Gingerbread has both qualities and flaws and ends up somewhere between good and bad. The Freshman wasn't bad but was a rather underwhelming, the least memorable season opening of all of Buffy.

However, Some Assembly Required, Him, As You Were, She, The Price and The House Always Wins are very rightfully forgotten, since they're among the worst Buffyverse episodes.

About The Foot

My photo
Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.